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FANTASTIC FORUM: Pastor Lee Roland’s latest book offers help to impoverished schools and communities

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OKLAHOMA CITY—Growing up in Oklahoma City, Pastor Lee Roland remembers a youth mired in poverty in a city that still embraced segregation. It was an experience that followed and inspired him throughout life, well into adulthood when he then became an educator, working in some of the city’s poorest schools and communities, most recently serving as the principal of Tulakes Elementary, a high-poverty, high-diversity and once-failing school that was completely turned around under his leadership.

He’s now a pastor and a motivational speaker, still working within the community, bringing forth a gospel of how to save inner-city children when the schools continue to fail them. In his new book Fantastic Voyage: A Story of School Turn Around and Achievement by Overcoming Poverty and Addressing Race, Roland offers not only tools for educators, but also communities on how to “better love and serve their neighbors and advocate for sustained improvement in their local school systems.”

“I was inspired to write Fantastic Voyage for the whole purpose of inspiring other educators, community action advocates and faith-based leaders to understand that change can happen,” Roland said. “I want to show them how to do it and know that if we become our brother’s keeper and look out for one another, anything is possible. We are better than this; to live in gated communities, away from the poverty and then criticize and be apathetic to the issue really violates everything that we say we are about as Oklahomans.”

Fantastic Voyage’s main aim is to use Roland’s experience at Tulakes Elementary to “inspire educators to passionately work to ensure that every child succeeds and to encourage communities to fight for a quality public education for all children.” He said he believes the first way to tackle this is for everyone to accept the responsibility of poverty as “my problem” to come to an understanding about the causes and effects it can have on a community.

“Educators need to know how to confront these issues and how to combat these tremendous challenges, which is especially difficult when you don’t know anything about the community,” Roland said. “There’s some education that needs to be taken place by the educators too; an understanding of the community they are working in will create empowerment to help overcome many of these issues. It’s a sad fact, but those children that need the least have the most resources while the children who have the most needs get the least.”

As an educator, Roland and his teachers realized that it was a job that went beyond the normal nine to five, often working weekends, summers, spring breaks and so on to help students achieve their goals. But beyond education, Roland often found himself helping with other resources that were needed by children and families ranging from spiritual assistance to food and groceries. Anything that offers the slightest bit of hope to these students is completely worth the time and energy, Roland believes.

“My message is this, and I want it to be echoed, is the life you save by helping and giving to the have nots, may be your own,” Roland added. “People who have no hope are dangerous people. People who are living amongst us that are hopeless that can’t get a job or maybe they don’t have the education or even have a few strikes against them…they do things out of desperation. The gap between the haves and the have not is getting wider; this is not good for anybody, because what is the hopeless man to do? When we give someone hope that they can succeed, and when they do, everyone in the community benefits.”

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Louis Fowler

Güicho. Gadfly. Chicano. Choctaw. Cristero. Freelancer. Leftist. Activist. Vilified. PKD....

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