Tag Archives: Jay Dodd

ABC House Has — And Fulfills — A Dream

In 2002, A Better Chance of Westport was just a dream.

ABC logoIn the 14 years since, the ABC program has fulfilled dreams. Young men have come from across America to Glendarcy House, on the corner of North Avenue and Cross Highway. They’ve attended Staples High School, and gotten deeply involved in school and community activities.

They’ve gone on to college, and embarked on careers. They’re already getting married. They’re success stories, and Westport should be enormously proud of them.

Every year in March, ABC holds its annual fundraiser. This year, they celebrate a great achievement: They now have 20 graduates.

Quite appropriately, the fundraiser is called ABC’s “Dream Event.”

The evening — set for Saturday, March 19 (7 p.m., Birchwood Country Club) — is always inspiring. One of the highlights is speeches by graduating seniors. Adrian Belvitt, Thomas Jones and Chris Morales — 3 very different young men, with a broad range of talents and experiences — will give insightful talks.

ABC House seniors (from left) Adrian Blevitt, Thomas Jones and Christopher Morales.

ABC House seniors (from left) Adrian Blevitt, Thomas Jones and Christopher Morales.

So will Emerson Lovell. Four years ago, he spoke as an ABC senior. This year, he graduates from Duke University. He’s very active in black politics there, and this fall heads to law school.

He’s just one of nearly 2 dozen young men whose lives have been impacted by ABC House. Shamir Clayton is earning an MBA at the University of Rochester. Jay Dodd is a noted blogger. Wesley Lemon is a chef in North Carolina, is also pursuing a music career (he sings at the Dream Event each year) — and is the 1st ABC House graduate to also have a baby.

Jeffrey Arias got married last year. Charles Winslow can’t make the Dream Event — he’s getting married the same day, to a woman in med school.

“Our mission is to give these young men a better chance,” says Dream Event organizer Lori Sochol. “Through that, they will touch other lives.”

Emerson Lovell

Emerson Lovell

Those are not just warm-and-fuzzy ideals. Emerson Lovell, for example — the Dream Event keynote speaker — inspired his younger sister to go to college. She’s there now.

The Dream Event is one of the highlights of my year. I can’t imagine a more powerful fundraiser.

Or a more fun one. There’s a fantastic auction, which this year will be bigger and better than ever. A new online system allows anyone to bid in real time that night — even if they’re not there. (Pre-bidding begins March 12 — click here for details, then scroll down.)

ABC’s mission is simple, and important: to provide academically gifted, economically disadvantaged and highly motivated African-American, Latino, Asian-American and Native American young men the opportunity to live in our community and study at Staples.

Through an education tough to get in their home communities, it is hoped they’ll assume positions of responsibility and leadership in their careers, communities and families..

With 8 scholars, ABC's Glendary House is at capacity this year.

With 8 scholars, ABC’s Glendary House is at capacity this year.

But the ABC graduates — 20, this June — have given at least as much to Westport

You can meet them, and hear their stories, at the March 19 Dream Event.

When you do, you’ll realize that dreams — the ABC organizers’, the scholars’, and all of ours for a better world — really can come true.

(For tickets, more information and auction details, click on www.ABetterChanceofWestport.org, then scroll down.)

Here’s a look at the day in the life of ABC House:

Here’s a look back at the 2014 Dream Event:

Jahari Dodd’s Strong Huffington Post Voice

From his 1st days at Staples High School, Jahari Dodd was a force of nature.

The very tall, very striking A Better Chance scholar took his new school by storm. He danced like a tornado — that was his role — in Players’ production of “The Wiz.” He befriended everyone, and smiled constantly. But he also spoke up and out, about social justice issues. Race and sexuality were particularly important to him.

Jay Dodd

Jay Dodd

He continued his activism at Tufts University. Jahari (now called Jay) majored in sociology, minored in English, and — starting sophomore year — blogged about college life.

Gradually, his writing became more political. This winter he wrote a cultural critique of feminism, in defense of Beyoncé.

Reposted on feminist and other blogs, it went viral. Almost immediately, a Huffington Post editor called. He asked Dodd to contribute to the site’s “College” pages.

Dodd wrote one story. But, he realized, Huffington contributors can write for any of the platforms. He branched out, covering race, gender, sexuality and politics.

Dodd’s most noteworthy piece so far was “Why I Will Never Want the ‘Same Love.'” Published under “Gay Voices” in January following the rapper’s Grammy Award, it examined how “whiteness” has come to represent “queerness.”

Jay Dodd's photo on the Huffington Post.

Jay Dodd’s photo on the Huffington Post.

The scathing critique earned Dodd hate mail, death threats, and both notoriety and fame. His own music professor — who taught the history of African American music and queer pop — sent it to Dodd to read, not realizing who had written it.

Dodd has written about President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative for young black men (he thinks it is unhelpful), as well as gay black athletes Michael Sam and Jason Collins; the plight of liberal arts conservatives, and being a millennial.

He writes, he says, “whenever I see some ‘cultural moment’ that needs to be questioned, or pushed back.”

Though Dodd’s tone can be strident, he does not want to be perceived as angry.

Jay Dodd and his mother, at Tufts University graduation.

Jay Dodd and his mother, at Tufts University graduation.

“I’ve been blessed to have many educational advantages,” the Los Angeles native says. “I don’t want anyone to read me, and think I’m ungrateful. Westport has gotten me here in many ways. It had a big effect on me.”

His 4 years at Staples — and in the Westport community — were important. However, he notes, “I was not as aware of cultural institutions then as I am now.”

He adds, “I’ve learned to make room in my life for questions, for new information, for conversations. I am open to growth. I hope others are too.”

Writing for the Huffington Post is not his full-time job. After graduating this spring, he works as a “community engagement fellow” at a healthcare and non-profit in Cambridge. He focuses his attention on lower-income schools.

In that job — as with his writing — Dodd’s eyes are wide open. His mind is clear. And his voice is very, very strong.