Ivan Crump

Forget rebuilding Baltimore. If rebuild just means repair or patch up, that’s not good enough. We shouldn’t be aiming to return to what we were but to be greater than anything we recognize. For that to happen, we have to do a better job of looking out for each other. We must adopt a “no one left behind” attitude and embrace an encouraging spirit that will make this city stronger because of its people. As we call for great leadership in this city, we must be leaders ourselves and show each other how to keep going, to never give up.

I met Kenneth Woods in Professor Greg Smith’s computer class during my first year of culinary school at Stratford University. He was frustrated, telling me he was going to quit. He started to walk out, and I grabbed him by the arm and told him to sit down. I whispered in his ear “$40,000. You’re going to throw away $40,000.” I told him, ‘I’m going to learn this and so are you.’ He tried to fight it. He was like a big bass on the line, but I wouldn’t let him go. We stayed after class. We went to tutoring. And Professor Smith told us, ‘That’s the thing I like about you boys. You never give up.’”

Come to find out, Kenneth wasn’t the only one. When you decide to begin a new career later in life, or even if you’re transitioning from high school to college, it’s a challenge. Throw in having to master how to cut potatoes or build masterpieces out of chocolate and some students get lost in the shuffle. But why? Because they don’t have anyone simply telling them to stick with it, you can do this.

That’s what the Never Give Up Club at Stratford is all about. Students helping students. The younger students are teaching people like me, a 60-year-old U.S. Army veteran, how to download apps to help with math. The older students are showing the younger students how to persevere, how to use their resources to prepare for life after college.

So many students come to school, but are not part of the school, just like so many people live in our community, but are not a part of it. To love a place and thrive in it, you have to take ownership of it. Culinary school is no different. It’s tough. You need grit to survive. This isn’t grandma’s kitchen where it’s ok to put a little too much sugar in the batter or lick the bowl when you’re done. It’s serious business, but it works because we find ways to have fun. We are always cooking at someone’s house, teaching each other secrets we’ve picked up from the chef instructors, and there is plenty of friendly competition along the way. But the end goal is that one big dream we each have.

After 14 years in the U.S. Army and 26 years with D.C. Metro Transit, I enrolled in Stratford’s culinary school to chase my dream of turning a house I bought in Panama in 1988 into a bed and breakfast. My fellow student and mentor in the club, Balinda Oliver, worked at the post office for 21 years and plans to start her own catering and event planning company. We have members of the club ranging from 21-60 years old, and most are not just students, they’re also business owners, all with different skills and ambitions. That’s how we keep each other going, how we’re going to be successful and how we’re going to give back to our communities.

Kenneth decided to stick around, and I made a promise to Kenneth that we’re going to walk across that stage at graduation together. We’re on track for October 2016.

Imagine the impact we could have on each other if we each gave one other person that nudge toward their goal. A little nudge to be a better student, business owner, employee, citizen. Maybe a lot more people would never give up on finding their Panama.

Ivan Crump is the founder of the Never Give Up Club, a group of students who help each other stay on course, at Stratford University’s culinary school in Baltimore. He is on track to graduate in Oct. 2016.