This month, EAST BAY RESIDENT and TV news reporter Wendy Tokuda will profile 11 Bay Area high school seniors (three from East Bay schools) who have overcome tremendous odds to stay in school.
The profiles are part of KRON-TV’s Students Rising
Above, an Emmy and Peabody award—winning series Tokuda created in 1998.
The program has raised more than $3 million to help send more than 100
high-risk, low-income teens to college. We caught up with Tokuda at her
home in the East Bay hills, where she talked about these inspiring
Q: Tell us about the students you profile.
A: Seventy-five percent live below the federal poverty line, and more than half don’t have functional parents. The parents are either in prison or have a drug habit, or the kids have been abandoned. About 40 percent have been homeless at some point. But they have managed to do well in school, and they want to go to college. After each story, viewers can donate to a fund to help send the kids to college.
Q: How has your audience responded to the project?
A: We could see that viewers were eager to do something good. The power of these stories is that each is about a single human being who has shown courage and character, and people feel like they can make a difference, one person at a time.
Q: Have viewers helped in other ways?
A: There was one girl, Silena, who was living with her sister in east Oakland, and they were supporting themselves with part-time jobs after school. I called her the day her story was going to air, and her sister said she was in bed in pain because she needed a root canal. After the story aired, I mentioned that she needed a root canal; seven dentists called in, and she got her tooth fixed.
Q: What gives certain kids the strength to persevere?
A: The successful kids usually feel responsible for someone else, like younger siblings, and that helps them place themselves outside of their own problems. They also have one adult who has stepped forward to help them. They love school because they feel safe there, and they’ve figured out that education is the only way to lift themselves out of the situation they were born into. Almost to a kid, they’ve learned to focus on the positive and block out the negative.
To donate to Students Rising Above, call (415) 561-8633 or visit www.studentsrisingabove.org .