Every child dreams of what they want to be when they grow up. An astronaut, a teacher, a pirate, or an actress. But some children aren’t allotted the same opportunities to achieve their childhood dreams.
Head Start programs, launched in 1965 under the Johnson Administration as part of the “War on Poverty,” promote school readiness for preschool age children from low-income families. With a special focus on literacy and language, the Choanoke Area Development Association of N.C., Inc. (CADA) Head Start/ Early Head Start Program, prepares economically disadvantaged children and their families for success in kindergarten and in life.
Finding Inspiration to Become an Inspiration
As a child, Regina “RK” Barrett, a CADA Head Start/Early Head Start Program graduate, dreamed of becoming a published author.
That dream became a reality with the publication of her book Ruby Joins the Choir. The book—the first in a collective children’s series—is the story of Ruby who decides to join her church’s choir. “This story was so authentic for me and for who I am, so it was just ready for me to write,” said RK, who grew up under the influence of her church.
The book is “about myself and my childhood and inspired by my daughters,” she explained, adding that her mother, a minister, and her maternal grandmother, played significant roles in her upbringing. In Ruby Joins the Choir, Ruby relies on her Grammy’s guidance to help her achieve her goal.
RK recently honored her CADA Head Start beginnings with a virtual interactive read-out-loud for current Head Start attendees, families and the CADA staff. “RK’s success demonstrates the long-term impact of the Head Start program,” said Christine Stephenson, CADA Early Head Start coordinator. “The advantages of participation in Head Start appear immediately, last a lifetime, and have an impact on other generations.”
A talented writer, RK is also an actress who had a role in the film “Blood Done Signed My Name.” She is also a model, a clothing designer, and owner of Nova Threadz, LLC a signature clothing line. Currently working as a paralegal, RK describes her most exciting role as mom to her daughters, 10-year-old Maddisan and 9-year-old Amira.
RK, who learned to write while in CADA’s Head Start program, finds inspiration from her daughters and from within herself. "I want to write stories that are relatable and encouraging to adults and children alike,” she said. With her first book under her belt, RK has more work ahead saying that readers should expect to read more of Rudy’s adventures.
“Once you uproot and plant yourself, there's more opportunities and resources than there were before,” said RK.
Small Town Roots, Big City Success
Not many can say they have participated on NBC’s The Voice. However, many may possess a voice and the notion of using it to become famous. In reality, though, success can be elusive.
For Deion Warren, the journey was challenging, yet ultimately fulfilling.
The son of a local pastor, Deion was raised in the church, where music was an integral part of his life. Growing up in Conway, North Carolina, a small, rural, low-income town in the northeastern part of the state, Dion found very few resources for youths. Over the years, Conway has since improved its resources and allows much more opportunity for the residents.
As a student in CADA’s Head Start/Early Head Start Program, Deion thrived. He now resides in Emporia, VA, working as a corrections officer and is lead singer for New Band on the Block, (NBOTB) founded in his hometown of Conway. The group self-describes as a young upcoming band full of talent, energy and style.
“It has been really hard to break out from the shadows [as a predominantly Black band] and make a name for ourselves,” he said. “That can definitely put a damper on your self-esteem and make you feel like you aren’t good enough, or you haven’t done enough, or you aren’t doing enough to be as good as your competitors.”
Deion’s faith in God and his drive to succeed were rewarded, though, when he was selected as a participant for The Voice’s televised blind auditions. His outstanding performance of Lady Gaga’s and Bradley Cooper’s country music song Shallow earned him a place on R&B singer John Legend’s The Voice team. Though eliminated in the competition’s battle round, Deion felt a sense of accomplishment and is grateful for the exposure provided by his experience on the hit show.
“My goal was never to win,” he said. “My goal was to allow my voice to be heard around the world.”
Deion continues to be an inspiration and his victory on The Voice has opened the door for many future opportunities.
CADA Executive Director Sallie Surface said, “It is my belief that every child can learn. Head Start provides an opportunity for every child, no matter their financial status, to begin their education with a strong foundation on literacy. “We are proud of the accomplishments of all of our Head Start/Early Head Start children,” she said.
“Whether they are teachers, veterinarians, working in the medical field or providing services, they are making an impact. Our children—now adults—are paying it forward and inspiring others.”
Erin Leonard is a writer in the North Carolina Community Action Association’s Communications Fellows Program. NCCAA Communications Fellows are students or recent graduates pursuing a career in communications, graphic design, IT, public policy or a related field. They receive a stipend for their participation in the program. For more information on the NCCAA Communications Fellows Program, please contact Yvette Ruffin, director of the NCCAA Communications Fellows Program.