Michael J. Simmons is currently a sophomore at Manual High School. He will be a member of the first graduating class (2011) since the school closure two years ago. He is quite athletic; football, soccer and skateboarding are his deepest passions. Although small in structure, he has the heart of a lion. He is fearless and relentless when facing adversity. Teamwork is the persona that reflects everything MJ embodies. His leadership is driven by actions.
MJ has a family who is quite active in the community. He has learned early to be gracious to those who have less and respect his elders. It was a challenge to decide what talents he could offer in reopening a school. Through support of his family, he became the spokesperson for incoming 9th graders. He met informally with students who considered Manual as an option. He shared their concerns with the media and community groups. The meetings with HandsOn Network provided MJ the opportunity to recruit other youth volunteers to help clean, paint, and plant trees. His leadership became the focal point for folks who wanted to hear the stories from a youth perspective. Doubtful members of the community were beginning to believe that there may be some hope.
The grand opening was electric. MJ for the first time had the opportunity to share his thoughts with over 700 volunteers in the school’s gymnasium. It was a day that he will never forget.
The results of MJ works were twofold. One, the community was quite pleased that students had a voice in reclaiming their school’s legacy. Secondly, student leadership would continue to be the standard culture with the support of the administration.
Michael J is the third generation of Manual High School. His willingness to stand before adults and express his ambitions and passions for his family’s alma mater was quite rewarding. Today’s youth are constantly being criticize for their lack of caring and support in the communities. MJ demonstrated that youth can send a strong message and adult can be persuade if given the opportunity for meaningful dialogue and decision making. The countless volunteer hours, interviews with local and national media inspired family members; friends and peers increased MJ’s self-confidence and concurrently allowed him to maintain that quiet, under the radar leadership that he relishes every day.