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Education

From First Grade to First Class

Private First Class Nelson Williams arrived at Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and Grill recently with Beverly Grove, Whiz Kids Coordinator at South Walker Church of Christ. They came to meet Bea Jai Webb and the Whiz Kids staff for Lunch with the Director, a new program Bea Jai has initiated to connect with former Whiz Kids. With his crisp army uniform studded with medals, Nelson received respectful nods of gratitude as he walked to the table. Some reached out to shake his hand. Others applauded. But Nelson wasn’t always the picture of success.

As the oldest of four children in a single parent home, the odds were stacked against him. His father worked two jobs, so Nelson had little help with school work. His education was off to a rough start when he failed Kindergarten. “I remember the first year Nelson was in Whiz Kids,” said Beverly. “He couldn’t read at all.”

First-grader Nelson was shy and had difficulty talking to people, but his tutor, Beverly’s husband James, kept pushing him. In spite of his struggles, James and Beverly saw a hope and a future. Then all of a sudden, something clicked.

“That’s how everything seems to go for me,” Nelson admitted. “I start out slow and then something clicks.”

Through the encouragement and support from the Whiz Kids program, Nelson’s confidence and determination began to grow. And so did his relationship with the Groves. By the time he graduated from Whiz Kids, Nelson was part of their family. As Nelson puts it, Mr. James was no longer just his tutor, he was his grandpa. They celebrated holidays together and attended church together. Throughout middle school and high school, Nelson was determined to beat the odds. He wanted to be a good example for his younger siblings.

In 2009, he graduated from Southeast High School, a charter prep school specializing in technology. With a bright future ahead, he enlisted in the army.

The military, however, proved difficult. Nelson chose Cryptological Language as his MOS (military occupation specialty) but since he didn’t do well on his test to join, his superiors thought it would be too hard for him, so they assigned him another occupation.

Nelson was discouraged, but he persevered. When he failed two tests at Defense Language Institute, he picked up the phone. “Every time things got hard I called Miss Beverly and she set me straight.”
Halfway through the course, something clicked. His GPA rose from a 2.0 to a 3.7 and he was reassigned to the first job he wanted.

Nelson completed two years of intense language study, well beyond the amount completed by his peers. He graduated at the top of his class and was chosen to deliver the graduation speech for his military unit, giving the entire speech in Mandarin Chinese. When asked what motivated him to persevere in the midst of initial failures, Nelson’s reply was a great example of tenacity, reflecting a maturity of someone well beyond his years.

“I couldn’t give up,” said Nelson. “People had high expectations of me. I didn’t want to disappoint my brothers or Miss Beverly or Mr. James. I knew if I pushed myself hard enough, I could do it.”
Nelson is proof that young people rise up to the expectations of a caring adult. Through the successful strategies of the Whiz Kids program, James and Beverly Grove deposited a hope and a future into Nelson and turned a struggling reader into an aspiring leader with unstoppable vision.

“I can’t imagine life without Mr. James and Miss Beverly,” said Nelson. “Without Whiz Kids, I wouldn’t know how to read.”

Recently, Nelson applied to West Point and one day hopes to use his training and skills to run for President. Today, as a Private First Class, Nelson is truly a picture of success.