Each Friday afternoon for the next 10 weeks, students from The Academy will visit Thorn Hill Education Center to participate in Operation Making A Change to receive an education in subjects school doesn’t teach.
OMAC, a mentorship program created by Gerald “Geo” Gibson, teaches children, and incarcerated adults, to recognize how the choices they make and attitude they have create their reality, said Abbigail Dunn, a teacher at The Academy. OMAC is a 12-week, three-phase program that The Academy began sending students to last year.
Some students are there voluntarily. Others aren’t.
“Being in OMAC makes you think twice about yourself, about your actions in life,” said Samaje Cole, 15, a student at The Academy. “Like getting in trouble and stuff. Like what Mr. Geo went through, it makes you think about yourself.”
Gibson said he grew up in a gang-infested area and began getting involved in gangs and substance abuse. His father wasn’t around and he didn’t show his mother much respect, he said.
“This program is based upon my own personal life experience,” Gibson said. “I grew up in a very, very unstable environment at home. There were drugs; there was violence.”
He went to prison three times, the first after being convicted of dealing drugs. The second and third times incarcerated were results of violating the terms of his probation. The original charge of drug dealing was a result of the environment he was raised in and a lot of bad choices in his youth, he said. He hung out with the wrong people, didn’t take school seriously and committed other crimes like possession, driving under suspended license and obstruction of justice.
The first two times behind bars didn’t do anything to improve himself or his life, he said. It was the third time in prison when he came up with the idea for OMAC.
“The third time I decided to dedicate my life to helping others not make the same mistakes I made,” he said. “In 1999, Dec. 31, when I was sitting in prison for the last time, I decided to walk out of prison with a plan this time. The plan was to help as many kids and help as many adults as I can become successful.”
Through OMAC, Gibson strives to teach children and teenagers lessons school might not be able to. During The Academy’s second session on Friday, Gibson spent a good chunk of his time with the students stressing the importance of respect and approaching the program with a positive attitude.
During the session, he also asked the students what they would like to learn about and made a list of their suggestions. The responses ranged from dealing with anger to the subjects of self-esteem and racism. Gibson asked students what career goals they had after graduation and made a list of their interests so a career fair could be organized in the coming 10 weeks.
Gibson said he strives to teach Academy students teamwork and awareness of how their own actions directly affect their lives and the lives of others.
“A lot of his activities are based around two big factors, the choices you make and the consequences.,” said Sarah Vivian, principal of The Academy. “It’s really shifting the thinking of the kids that they really do have the control. And, the other one is team building. In today’s society, almost everything you go and do outside of school, you’ve got to learn how to work with other people.”
Dunn said, during the first OMAC session this year, students were separated into groups and had to works as teams to overcome a rope obstacle together. At one time, students had to navigate the obstacle together without being able to talk.
“Last year I actually had an opportunity to participate in the trust fall,” Dunn said. “We had students fall off the stage at Thorn Hill into the arms of the group just showing that we can trust each other. It was a lot of fun being able to fall into my students’ arms and them realizing I trust them as much as I expect them to trust me.”
Elijah Bell, 17, said he didn’t have the best opinion of OMAC when Dunn first told him about it and attempted to convince him to go through the program.
“I kind of actually went into it with a negative attitude,” he said. “I’d never done anything like that before. Right before it happened, I saw how excited people were to go, so I kind of was just like, ‘Well, if these people are excited to go, why shouldn’t I be?’ So I went and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.”
Bell had a choice of whether to participate in OMAC, but not every teen does. Samaje has been court-ordered to participate and, like Bell, didn’t begin the program with a positive attitude, but that changed over time, he said. Both teens said Gibson has a lot to do with their shifting perspectives on the program.
“Mr. Geo is a great guy,” Bell said. “He never makes you feel like you don’t belong. You could be having the worst day in the world, as soon as you walk into his room he makes you feel like he’s there for you and that nothing can go wrong when you’re around him. A lot of people don’t give off that feeling, especially to younger people, because not everybody is in it for the children. Some people are just in it for the money. He’s not one of those people and it’s really appreciated.”