Charlottesville Dreamers move on and up

Charlottesville Dreamers move on and up

Financial advisor Chris Poe was a college student when he first heard of the I Have a Dream Foundation while watching a “60 Minutes” segment on the program, which started 20 years ago to help poor inner city kids with school and life.

“I thought that would really be cool to do someday,” he says. “But back then, I didn’t have two nickels to rub together. So fast forward.” In the year 2000, Poe and Realtor Jeff Gaffney (who was inspired by a Colin Powell speech) partnered to launch a branch of the program at Clark Elementary by adopting the entire first grade.

They believe they can fly: From left, Robert Brooks, Jeff Gaffney, Priscilla Johnson, Barrington Irving and Chris Epps at a May 30 ceremony to mark the Charlottesville Dreamers move to high school.

“We wanted to do something that would be a very involved and committed requirement of our time,” Poe says. Calling it the Charlottesville Dreamers, Poe and Gaffney pledged to provide the more than 60 children—many of whom lived in public housing—with academic support, cultural and recreational activities, and individual attention for at least 12 years.

“Sometimes we just play basketball,” Poe says.

Now most of the 14- and 15-year-olds are leaving Buford Middle School to move on to Charlottesville High, where they will continue to be sponsored, eventually receiving tuition assistance to attend a college, university or accredited vocational school. That opportunity is at least four years away, though, and the Dreamers have more immediate interests.

Take, for instance, Chris Epps. For a while now, the incoming CHS freshman has wanted to learn how to fly planes—and he is suddenly close to his dream. On May 29, he got to meet Barrington Irving. Only 24, Irving has already flown solo around the world in a plane he built from donated parts, in the process becoming both the youngest person and the first black person to do so. Now he runs a nonprofit that tries to interest youth in aviation and he appears at assemblies like the one at Buford for the Charlottesville Dreamers.

“You have to understand where Barrington came from,” says Robert Brooks, a local developer and part-time pilot who is responsible for bringing the aviator to town. “Barrington forged his path from inner city Miami, and actually ran into a mentor who enabled him to follow his dream.”

“I was in the store, and it was the first time I had seen a black pilot in person,” says Irving. Amazingly, the pilot walked up to him and asked if he had ever wanted to fly, and then took the boy under his wing, eventually inspiring him to undertake his historic journey. “I didn’t even think I was smart enough to fly an airplane,” he says, smiling.

Now Irving offers his life as an example. “Having a dream is one thing, living it is another,” he says. “Helping students realize their dream is a key component.”

Which brings us back to Epps. After Barrington’s words, Brooks offered to let the teen fly back with Barrington and him to Richmond in his four-seat plane.

“There’s a lot of parallels between what the I Have a Dream Foundation is doing and what [Irving] did,” says Brooks. “It’s very much a reality.”

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