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Dennis Sloan has been passionate about empowering urban youth through education and a positive self-esteem since his youth. In college, he coordinated his fraternity’s youth drill team which started in a Durham, NC housing project. He used his position as president of the Student Government Association of NCCU to reach out to Durham’s youth through child literacy volunteerism and youth comprehension engagement at the public library and schools in poor areas.
After graduation he worked for the Fisher Branch YMCA (Detroit), the same branch he learned to swim. He help design youth development programs. He headed the Physical Fitness Department and ran the After School Fitness Fun program. He also created and coordinator an annual Fisher Y community parade. In every position, he rolled up his sleeves and pant legs to get knee deep in his passion, working with and empowering children. He found a gift of engaging children in fun, non-threatening ways. He has always pushed children to embrace school and worked with many, tutoring and motivating them to excel academically.
20+ years after, at a very low point in his life, he tells everyone who will listen about the time a late model Jag pulled up beside him and a smartly dressed man bolted out. This frightened Dennis because of the violence that was beginning to envelope his community. The driver rushed toward Dennis saying “Mr. Sloan, I know you don’t remember me but you used to be my basketball coach at the Y. Thank You! Some of the lessons you taught me helped me stay out of the streets and in school.” He reached into his pocket before shaking Dennis’ hand and thanking him, slipping him a $100 bill. This was a pivotal point in his life. At a point when he was considering giving up on the vision that he says God gave him, he received confirmation not to get tired.
After the YMCA branch’s closing, Dennis changed career directions and entered the business world as a sales/service professional. He’s had the opportunity to work with a number of multi-nationals including MCI, Ameritech Cellular, Nextel Communications, Radio Shack, General Foods and University of Phoenix. He also trained under Ron Gibel, owner of Urban Office Products which was at the time of his employment NYC’s largest minority office supplier. This is where he was able to learn about the art of the deal.
After the death of his mother, he re-evaluated his priorities. He needed to make a difference and leave this planet in a better position than when he came. In 2005, after seeing a neighborhood child twerk and rap every lyric of an inappropriate gangsta rap he engaged her. After discovering she did not know her phonics sounds and recognizing her intellectual brilliance from previous conversations with her, he got busy.
He knew that if he could make reading fun he could grab her attention. He knew that if he could grab her attention he could help motivate her to read. He made a sock puppet and started tutoring her in reading. It worked! She began to build her alphabet recognition and other reading skills. Soon, many of the neighborhood children began to approach him. They asked him if his puppet could tutor them.
He began creating an educational puppet show and began having shows in his back yard. The shows were cheesy. The puppets looked like and were handmade, the stage was a discarded refrigerator box and the soundtrack was amateur at best. Even though the shows were cheesy the children loved them. Dennis used his business experience and looked at the shows from the customer’s (children) perspective. He knew the experience had to be ‘child friendly” AKA fun. With limited resources he focused on what resources he had. He just needed to be creative in using them. He served freshly popped popcorn. He also served grape Kool Aide with lemon Kool Aide ice cubes made in a mini fruit ice cube mold. He performed physical humor to make them laugh. So as the children sang, rapped and laughed, they ate fresh popcorn and drank Grape Kool Aid served in a clear plastic cup showing Lemon Ice floating around in the shapes of fruit.
One day a grandparent praised Dennis after a show saying that her daughter was always dumping her son off on her to go to a party or happy hour and that she was glad her grandson could come to an educational happy hour. Father Time’s Educational Happy Hour was born. He designed the Reading 2 Win literacy program for a local non-profit that was used in the Detroit Public Schools system. With the proceeds he developed a much more professional puppet show. The puppets were still handmade but by a newly purchase sewing machine. The stage was built with corrugated plastic. The soundtrack was created on a used laptop, purchased to allow the insertion of sound effects and the opportunity to learn basic graphic art skills to further develop the show.
Now it was time to take his show on the road. Dennis has had the pleasure of performing or holding puppetry workshops for children at Boys and Girls Clubs in Southeastern Michigan, the Detroit Public Schools & Library system. In 2007, he performed at the Michigan State Fair. These venues were in addition to the countless backyards and basements he performed in front of children at risk of suffering illiteracy. In 2008 he authored his 1st children’s title- Do Not Give Up! The Barak Obama Story and Activity Book to commemorate the historic election of President Barack Obama. It identified the similarities of President Obama and urban children as motivation for them to excel academically.
One day he was walking through the Motor City Casino and heard someone loudly rapping the lyrics to a rap in his puppet show. He turned around and recognized a vendor from an Eastside Detroit Flea Market he performed a few months prior. The vendor was rapping the lyrics to If I Can Read You Can Read, a motivational rap that helps build blending skills. The vendor began telling his companion about the show and the reaction from the children. He told his companion “this man is Sesame Street from the Hood.” He began telling his friend about how child engaging, hip hop and fun the show was.
Dennis would always tell anyone that would listen that the educational content from his shows was effective at motivating inner-city children at risk of illiteracy to want to read and to build their reading skills. Why? Because he made it fun! This Casino encounter was the conformation that he needed to take a leap of faith. He knew he could compete with Sesame Street and Dr. Seuss as far as the effectiveness of his educational content. The challenge was to produce it within a business model that monetized it but kept the core value in place, empowering children at risk of suffering illiteracy. Now it was time to get busy.
In 2009, he committed full time to developing a series of multi-media projects that could reach a broader audience of children most at risk of illiteracy but, that would be enjoyed by all children. This would mean living a very meager (poor) lifestyle that included homelessness a few times. But that commitment would lead him to receive a Certificate of Entrepreneurship from Wayne State University’s Tech Town Fast Trac program and a Certificate of Completion from High Scope’s Youth Workers Essentials Series. He also sought out cost effective graphic arts, video and audio editing training, remembering a lesson learned from Ron Gibel- “To be successful in business you have to know your business like the back of your hand, invest your time to the end result, work your business like tomorrow is not promised and instead of talking about success, just be about success.”
He also wrote. In completed, draft or development form, Dennis has created numerous multi-media projects targeting children at risk of suffering illiteracy but entertaining to all. These include The Magic Word, The Magic Phrase, What’s My Name?, Alphabet Soup, If I Can Read You Can Read, The Power of Practice and Little David’s Big Problem, the first of a biblical project he is excited to begin in the fall of 2015.
Still living a pretty meager lifestyle, Dennis is excited to introduce the very first of his published titles, The Magic Word.