Inconsistency in Consistency

This story uncovers how a Dallas nonprofit fights illiteracy in many communities.

April 19, 2015

Inconsistency in Consistency

As Dallas literacy rates continue to fall, Behind Every Door perseveres to educate children of life beyond the bounds of the 75216 ZIP code.

A burst of commotion and high energy levels erupt as students enter the Village Oaks Apartments community center. Children are yelling about homework that needs to be completed or about their need for something to eat or drink. Children bring friction and frustration from school or their homes inside the center, and the leaders, including Davis Ridley, and volunteers of the Behind Every Door organization do their best to stop it. They gain control over the 5- to 13-year-olds by minimizing their energy and preparing their minds for learning.

The importance of literacy and education is not a foreign concept to Americans. The idea is almost beaten to death, but is anything actually being done to improve the statistics? Dallas consists of failing school districts.

According to the organization Commit! Our Kids. Our Tomorrow. Nearly 80 percent of Dallas Independent School District children are considered “low-income” and subsequently rely on free lunches. Of DISD students, 84 percent graduate, but only 14 percent are considered college-ready. Just 1 in 5 students who read below grade level in third grade will graduate from college.

One group is fighting these statistics, challenging students to learn to read rather than beating the system to improve their test scores. According to the organization’s website, Behind Every Door is a start up nonprofit whose mission and vision respectively are “to introduce people to Jesus’ Good News as we practically meet their needs” and “to transform undeserved neighborhoods by inspiring and empowering individuals and families to build and sustain healthy communities.”

Behind Every Door is located in the community center of the Village Oaks Apartments complex in South Dallas. The after school program serves, mentors, and tutors the children of the community as they struggle not to fall victim to their circumstances of exposure to drugs and alcohol, poor school systems, violence or unreliable guardians. The majority of the children in the community face many of these challenges. An inconsistent yet endless cycle invariably continues of poverty and illiteracy.

Davis Ridley, director of Opportunities and Partnerships at Behind Every Door, described homes of “chaos and disorder” where education is not a priority, and male role models are nonexistent and therefore absent from teaching respect and discipline. Ridley explained that there is little to no history of education in the children’s families, and consequently they have never been exposed to the benefits of working for something greater. “The culture of poverty is to reject the idea of putting in work. The children see no value in committing to something,” Ridley said. “Consistently, the children follow the actions their parents took and refute education,” he said.

 According to Ridley, Many children struggle to commit to the after school program. They do not understand the need to come to a place that makes them work everyday when the rest of the community resists this work ethic. Ridley has also seen children fight through tears and failing grades to learn and continue to be consistent in their attendance. Ridley and the Behind Every Door organization share God’s love with these children through their patience and encouragement. One child in particular, third-grader La Diamond Berry, began working with Ridley in the fall of 2013 reading at a first grade level. By the spring of 2014, she successfully read at her respective grade level. Ridley revealed he will never forget the day Berry ran into his office exclaiming, “Mr. Davis, I passed my reading for the third grade,” beaming from ear to ear. Village Oaks students are starting to see improvement and learning to be proud of their grades.

Margaret Jones, volunteer and Southern Methodist University student, said, “When a child finishes a long chapter of a book or spells a word correctly, there is a thrill in his or her eyes that many of us have never experienced. Their passion for success and, in turn, for building relationships in the community that Behind Every Door has built, translates into a long lasting dream to succeed, which elicits joy in every facet.”

Ridley found his way to Behind Every Door via a nontraditional path. He rejected their recruitment three times before accepting a position. Ridley had other careers in mind, but in the end, he felt like God wanted him to have this job. He thrives in the challenge of coaching, motivating, encouraging and inspiring others to improve their lives. He shared that looking back on his life he was not always the smartest or most athletic, but if he had a devoted teacher or coach, he excelled. He said it is “a God given gift to want to coach and help,” and investing in the children at Village Oaks is fulfilling his passion.

Ridley shared it is too early for the organization to see its effects on a citywide scale, even a neighborhood scale. The organization began five years ago and has offered an after school program for the last four years. Literacy is something that takes a lot of time and effort to tackle, and both of which Behind Every Door is willing to give. Ridley is hopeful for the future and for the children of Dallas to continue to learn and better themselves for a bright future.