JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A formerly homeless First Coast woman now works to empower area youth.
She is pushing to make a brighter future for students at the A. Philip Randolph Academies of Technology.
"Hey! I haven't seen you today!" Ingrid Bowman Thomas shouted to a student across a large area, with a smile.
Bowman Thomas works in the school.
"I love the kids!" she said "You know what's funny? I didn't always like kids," she said with a laugh.
There are 575 students in the school that she works with but she focuses on 75 at-risk students via Communities In Schools which helps students become successful adults.
"I'm a hope dealer," Bowman Thomas said frankly. "Every single day, I'm dealing out hope to kids that did not think they could make it."
Hope is what she used to rely on. During second and third grades, her family was homeless in Pennsylvania. She bounced from houses to shelters.
"I didn't think that we were less than anyone else," she explained.
Eventually, her family found a home in her 4th grade year. She overcame a stutter and joined her high school debate team. In those years, a "Big Sister" mentor changed her life. Bowman-Thomas went on to earn a master's degree then joined CIS in 2007 with a fire in her heart.
"I'm the kid who they counted out," she said as her eyes welled with tears. "Who no one thought would be anything. So, I fight so hard and so righteously for these kids. Because I know if you're breathing, there's hope."
Hope for each student.
"All my boys get a tie. I teach them how to tie their tie," she said of some of her students.
Pushing them to succeed is what she is doing.
"All we need is someone behind us silently praying for us and pushing us and wishing us to do better. and whispering in our ear 'You got this.'"
There is a fervent passion ignited in the classroom that keeps burning, she said.
"'Ms. Ingrid, I graduated'" she said, describing what she wants each of her students to eventually tell her. "'I'm going to college.' 'I'm doing OK. I have a job.' Then, I have accomplished what my mission is and my mission is to change lives."
Bowman Thomas hands out homemade book marks to all of her students. It is called "10 things I hope you'll never forget."
She said all of the things on the list are her favorite, but number 1 is "You have a destiny to fulfill."
First Coast News