A few years ago, Michael Farrell Jr. was living in Chicago, but he says he got the itch to move back home; so he packed his bags, returned to Cincinnati and began taking classes at Xavier University
so he could become a teacher.
After graduating and securing his teaching license, Farrell Jr. landed a job at St. Francis Seraph
, but he still hadn’t found his calling.
“Probably like most people who teach in inner city, I was all geared up to change the world,” Farrell Jr. says. “But when I got there, I quickly realized there were a lot more challenges there than I would ever be able to imagine in my life.”
Despite the circumstances, something stood out to Farrell Jr.
“I realized in every class at our school from eighth grade to kindergarten, there were always those one or two kids in every class who came from the same circumstances as the rest of the kids, but for various reasons and motivations, there were always the one or two who did everything you asked them to do,” Farrell Jr. says. “They did their homework every night, they studied for tests, participated in class, were respectful to the teachers, staff, their classmates.”
So Farrell Jr. founded Against the Grain Scholars
, a nonprofit dedicated to building on the foundations already established in these students’ lives, while also introducing them to community networks and showing them the impact they can have in the lives of others.
“The kids were going against the grain of the popular culture of their peers,” Farrell Jr. says. “And I started to realize, most of the nonprofits are geared toward a mission that’s more aligned with ‘let’s take the bad kids and make them good,’ ‘let’s grease the squeakiest wheel,’ and the thing that drove me crazy was here you have this subset of kids who are doing everything you’re asking them to do despite their circumstances, and no one’s focusing on them.”
So Farrell Jr. inducted the first two ATGS in December 2012. Now there are five scholars
, and Farrell Jr. hopes to add two more at the start of the next school year. He’s already had to purchase a special vehicle so there are enough seats and seatbelts for everyone to ride along to tutoring and volunteer opportunities, in addition to activities and dinners where they debrief.
“You hear all these stories about what’s going on at home and have newspaper evidence of situations, and some of it could be true, some could be rumors, but of the stuff I knew, I thought, ‘Here’s this kid who could probably use every excuse in the book to come in here and act like a total knucklehead,’” Farrell Jr. says.
“But he comes in every day with his homework as if he has the teacher’s manual in his lap, and you wonder how a kid like this goes home and even finds a place to do his homework, and he was just grinding it out, so I thought, ‘OK, there’s programs, but the commitments are too heavy,’ so I though there needs to be some sort of nonprofit, some sort of in-between to reinforce his behavior and help him along the path.”
ATGS by donating.
• Check out ATGS' Calendar of Events
, and contact
Michael Farrel Jr. if you're interested in getting involved or attending an event with the group.
• Like ATGS on Facebook
, and share the page with your friends.
By Brittany York
Brittany York is a professor of English composition at the University of Cincinnati and a project manager for Charitable Words. She also edits the For Good section of SoapboxMedia.