Behailu Academy, a nonprofit after-school creative arts enrichment program, held its first Mosaic Awards ceremony and fundraiser Nov. 14 at Carolina Golf Club on Old Steele Creek Road.
Two of the awards recipients have been involved with Behailu from the beginning. They are Thomas Davis, Carolina Panthers linebacker and founder of the Thomas Davis Defending Dreams Foundation. The other honoree is ESPN SportsCenter anchor Stuart Scott.
When accepting his award, Davis said, “The past doesn’t determine the future. … I’m living proof that it’s not where you start that determines where you finish.”
The Scott family accepted the award on behalf of Stuart Scott. Due to his long battle with cancer and ongoing treatment, he was unable to attend.
His sister, Susan Scott, of Durham said, “Young people everywhere deserve to have the experiences we’ve had. … Stuart would have said Behailu represents everything that’s important to him.”
The Scott family also donated $15,000 to the transitional housing program.
The third honoree of the evening was the 2014 Burroughs Wellcome Fund N.C. Teacher of the Year James Ford, a ninth-grade, social studies teacher at Garinger. He got involved with Behailu 1 1/2 years ago and now serves on the board.
Ford said he likes to help kids who have been “written off and labeled and help them see themselves” beyond the stereotypes.
About Behailu he said, “There’s so much that doesn’t get taught in the classroom and at home. … Through the arts, they free themselves and learn more than they’ve ever set out to know about who they are and what they want out of life.”
More than 200 people attended the awards banquet, which raised $35,000 for the current creative arts program and a future transitional living housing program for young male adults who’ve graduated from Behailu. The housing program is expected to begin in 2015.
Since opening in October 2012, the program boasts a 100 percent graduation rate. The program is open to middle and high school students in Charlotte.
Deedee Mills, Behailu’s founder, said students in the program have found their voice.
Garinger High School 11th-grader Areanna Townsend proudly stood in front of Mosaic Award attendees and expressed how Behailu Academy affected her.
“We paint our joy on the walls,” she said.
Another 11th-grader from Garinger, Charles Holland privately said, “When I am fighting with family and friends and when I feel misunderstood, I have Behailu.”
Similar sentiments were voiced throughout the night by Behailu’s students.
Director Lori Krzeszewski said they hosted the recent event to change more lives and recognize other difference-makers in the community.
Krzeszewski held the mic and tried to gain composure for her final speech. With glassy eyes and tear-stained cheeks, she talked about what Behailu had meant.
“To be at a place where children don’t want to go home, it’s a beautiful problem,” she said. “However, we need to do more. What do you say when a kid tells you, I don’t have anywhere to stay.
“I can’t get rid of these kids. … There’s a big need to serve them and their families beyond what we are doing now. We hope to build a community center in NoDa to support all ages, from toddlers to grandparents. This is going to happen.”
Krzeszewski optimistically glanced at Mills and said, “Deedee and I always say that if you keep doing the right thing for the right reasons, doors will open.”