Representative: Yolanda Trotman
iSpeak Now instills passion, pride and confidence in young adults so that they recognize their future is limitless. iSpeak Now does that by deploying models–including mock trials, Nzuri, and iWrite–in Title 1 schools or schools with high minority populations. Listening and speaking make up as much as 75% of adult communication but only represent 25% of the Common Core Standards. iSpeak Now understands the importance of teaching public speaking skills.
How did your organization get started?
iSpeak Now began in 2015 after I was elected as a District Court Judge. I volunteered as a Truancy Court Judge at an elementary school and had the idea to do a simple mock trial once I found the kids came to the courthouse. Later, I decided to develop a program that involved segments of the community because this was even more important to me. The idea blossomed into a true mock trial experience that involves the community. I later left the bench to see it grown without limitations.
We developed community partnerships with law enforcement, attorneys, judges and other volunteers to work directly with the students and develop their decision- making skills, oral and written communication through trial scenarios.
From where does your passion for this cause come?
I am a former high school teacher debate coach and mock trial coach. When I saw the impact that a simple fact pattern had on kids who were labeled as those who wouldn’t succeed, I knew I was on to something. I was tired of seeing young people come through my courtroom not being educated about how the justice system works. Or worse, making decisions that would have a long-term impact on their lives. I could not do or say much from the bench because of limitations. I knew I wanted to do something to help address the school to prison pipeline in a tangible way. I wanted to create something that helps build the communication skills kids are not taught in school anymore. Seeing how the kids grow and develop in a short amount of time or seeing my 8th grade girls blossom through Nzuri is its own reward. The successes are immeasurable.
Why is your work so important?
The work that we do is designed to teach children and young adults the oral communication skills that they do not get through the common core standards at schools. We teach students how to think for themselves to make sound decisions, and to understand the justice system in a way that makes sense. We offer opportunities for students to learn about the justice system in a unique way.
What excites you most about the SEED20 process?
I think this is an excellent opportunity for the organization to really grow in a significant way. One of the biggest things I am most proud of is having a younger and diverse Board of Directors. I believe this will give us an opportunity to all be better advocates for our programs and to spread the successes of our students in a way that is beyond the normal metrics.
What do you hope to gain from the SEED20 experience?
I hope this program will allow me to further develop the infrastructure for iSpeak Now. I hope to learn ways to leverage the opportunities that our programs can offer into a model that will ultimately become a statewide and nationwide model. And learning how to delegate those tasks so that I am able to better expand the program. I also want to learn better and unique ways to raise funds in a way that is long term and sustainable through grants and other means.
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