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Realizing Every Dream – HRYC 2015 by Sherry Cannon – Lavelle Smith-Grant and Jamanni Gibson Awarded 2015 HOPE State Farm Scholarships

We’ve put to bed another annual youth conference. This is the 11th year since I was compelled to do our first conference in 2005. Many of you know the story I share that it started from a place of selfishness. I was concerned about my grandson transitioning from a small private school to a public high school; thinking he was not equipped to handle the change was only in my mind, because he had a successful high school experience and thrived there, never succumbing to negative peer pressure and setting a strong example for many of his peers.

But who knows, that God will use whatever He chooses, to get us to walk the path He has for us to walk? I am convinced that without a doubt this was the path ordained for me. The first several years of Hope Renewed, right before conference time, I dealt with a loss. In 2005 my oldest sister Jeannie succumbed to breast cancer. In the following years my mother, father, sister-in-law, uncle, and two of my favorite cousins all transitioned. Those losses always made me question if this conference was really the will of God for my life. In December 2010 when my husband Maynard transitioned I really didn’t know if I could do another conference. It seemed to me too hard of a trade-off.

Each year with a great Board of Directors, we managed to do another conference. Without fail, some person, be it one of the kids or an adult would say or do something that would let me know there was value to what we do at Hope Renewed.

After reading the essays written in hopes of winning the two State Farm Hope Scholarships sponsored by Bob Humbles and Donna Watson, I wanted to share excerpts with our partners– ICC who afford us the ability to have our conference concert, through the amazing Dr. Ali, Peoria Park District, who literally turns over the RiverPlex for a day and a half; Carl Cannon and Brent Wheeler, two of my personal favorite persons; our numerous sponsors, and our scores of volunteers.

For the past few years, we literally had to seek out kids to write an essay and attend the conference. There was always the kid, who wanted a scholarship, but didn’t want to do the required work to get it. This year 7 kids were willing and eager for the opportunity to receive one of our $500 scholarships.

The following excerpts show how the people who volunteer with Hope Renewed have impacted these young people’s lives.

Michiah Risby: Howard University – PhD in Pharmacy

Dreams, as a child everyone paints a picture of sleeping in order to dream, but in reality you don’t get much sleep or barely get any sit down time, when trying to turn your dreams into reality. Dreams are not all shooting stars and a kiss goodnight, but they help set goals and benchmarks, that you try to reach throughout your life. …. Dreams can be the force that keeps you going, can be someone’s only motivation, dreams can be our future….

My mother introduced me to Hope Renewed. At first I was hesitant, as any teenager would be, but I really enjoyed myself the first day. The icebreaker, where everyone is shy, but the encouragement from the surrounding adults really felt nice. It showed the kids it was safe to be you, whether you were judged or not, that the people judging you didn’t have the courage to even do the thing you did, so you should pay it no mind….. The 15-18 year old girls workshop facilitator, Ms. Wilson gave us advice and had us each give each other advice on how we could reach our individual goals. I loved it because in our generation there is not much support from the next person, if you’re not doing the same things they’re doing, you’re looked at differently as an outcast…..

Jessica Lacy: Ultra-Sound Technician

This conference has influenced me even more to attend college and realize my dreams even more. This experience has given all the recent high school graduates more eye openers on life and things we need to do to succeed in life. My dream is to do and be the best I can in college; to get a degree as in Ultra-sound Tech. Maybe as time goes on to become a nurse that works with babies, after they’re born….. The workshop helped me become more confident in wanting to pursue my goals and dreams. …I know it will be hard because I will be raising my first child during the time I start college….

The 15-18 girls’ workshop title was “Never Downgrade Your Dreams to Match your Reality.” I really like this saying because it fits everybody, especially for young people who are struggling or trying to make it somewhere in life. That saying means to me, to hold onto your dreams and not let anybody turn you around. … .In order for me to stay on track, I must keep my faith in God, and never downgrade my dreams to match whatever my reality or situation is.

Tybresha Kimbrough: Illinois Central College & OSF Nursing School – Pediatric Nurse

We are born into the world clueless of what lies ahead. Unaware of what it will take to get ahead in life, to be successful. I believe in having a dream is what it will take. You might ask yourself, what is a dream? It’s a cherished aspiration, ambition, or idea.

This year’s theme at Hope Renewed Conference is “Realizing Every dream.” Everyone has a dream or dreams, whether they know it or not. …..At the end of middle school I realized what my dream was – to become a pediatric nurse. A pediatric nurse provides health and medical care from birth through a child’s later teen years. I want to be a nurse because I want to be able to help people and provide them with information on how to better take care of themselves. Having figured out my dream before entering high school was very important to me. This gave me the opportunity to take classes similar to the one I’ll take in college for nursing…..

In the workshop I was in at Hope Renewed Youth Conference, 15-18 year old girls, we talked about our dreams. We gave advice to each person to help them take steps or set goals for themselves. We listed ways to achieve our goals. The HRYC theme influences me to keep following my dreams and never give up, because our dreams can make us very successful people….

Gabrielle Moody:  Eureka College – Physical Therapy

At the age of 11 I started attending everything that was included in Hope Renewed Youth Conference, i.e. workshops and concert. Each year has been a great experience thanks to the volunteers, speakers, and performers. Throughout the years that I have attended, the messages were centered on working hard to achieve our dreams. The speakers encourage us to analyze ourselves to see what we do well, decide our dream, and put it into action……..

The most important thing I have taken away from hope Renewed youth Conference is that there are many people, who still believe in today’s youth. The awesome volunteers come together each year to encourage and motivate us. By bringing together such a diverse group of speakers, we are able to see, that it truly doesn’t matter how you start but how you finish…..

When you hear the same message from different speakers it just gets in your core and then you start to really believe it. All the speakers that I’ve listened to over the years impressed upon to dream and believe it. No dream is too big or too small. Never have I heard a speaker discourage a child’s dream…….

My high school days are behind me. College is ahead of me. As I embark upon my education at Eureka College I acknowledge that I owe a big “Thank You” to HRYC. Although education has always been instilled in me as long as I can remember; I think that the opportunity to see and interact with people who look like me , i.e. Dr. Kamara Taylor, Dr. Venus Evans-Winter etc… really convinced me that I too can Realize Every Dream.

Patrick Pollard:  Illinois Central College – Music

If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t BIG enough! This is a saying printed on the T-shirts provided by the Hope Renewed Youth Conference 2015. Attending the conference was the biggest blessing in my life. To begin the first person I talked to was Officer Daniel Duncan. Mr. Duncan really gave a message from his heart about following your dreams, and never letting anyone tell you what you can’t do. ….

Another important thought I left with is that success isn’t free. In the Music workshop, Ms. Kamara Taylor helped by encouraging me, that anytime you are given an opportunity you should take advantage of it; Instead of being scared and shy, because you never know who is around when you are performing or displaying your talent. Your success depends on your hunger for it…

My dream is to become a successful musician…… I travel the state year round playing music for people. Music is ev everything to me. Music to me is like a morning jog to a person who loves fresh air…. I drive myself to be better than I was the last week, day, hour, or minute. ….. I have so-called friends who laugh when I say what I want to be. That only makes me hungrier and more determined; because I believe I will have the last laugh when I am a successful musician, who they listen to in their homes on television or in their vehicles on the radio……

2015 HOPE State Farm Scholarship WINNERS

Lavelle Smith Grant: Lincoln University – Criminal Justice


RED is the color of passion, the color of love, and the color of fire. RED is the fire that burns in me to succeed. You can’t succeed without being able to see yourself succeeding. Having a dream fuels you, motivates you, keep you going. A dream gives you the strength to complete your short-term goals, and master the milestone that ultimately gets you to your long-term goals to conquer them as well….. A dream is for you and you alone to make reality and call your own.

Realizing Every Dream is what RED stands for. I got this inspiration from R&B singer Ne-Yo, who got it from both our role-model, the late great King of Pop Michael Jackson. Michael inspired me and many others that; “in a world full of hate, we must still dare to hope. In a world filled with anger, we must still dare to comfort. In a world filled with despair, we must still dare to dream”…….

Dare to Dream was the conference theme of the first conference I attended. I have gone to them all every since. Every year there were high school seniors getting ready to go off and start their journey as adults. I never really knew what they were talking about when they talked about their goals and aspirations until 2015, now it’s my turn. Starting with creating this year’s theme “RED”, I have a dream. Not taking anything from Dr. King, but I have a modern dream, and that dream doesn’t include me being a negative statistic. Which means no gang banging, no flunking out of school, no having babies at an early age, or being in trouble with the law……..

The most memorable moment at Hope Renewed for me was last year. Mr. Shundell Bloomfield gave a powerful speech about adversity and how to maintain focus and stay on the right path to success. He used a clever analogy asking us if we’d ever seen a duck get wet. He went on to break it down by saying, that no we’d never see a duck wet. Why, because duck wings repel the water. A duck doesn’t allow water or dirt to stay on it because that would weigh the duck down. When I heard that I instantly compared it to me. Mr. Bloomfield was saying that you have to be like a duck, and do whatever you have to do to make sure, when life gets you down that you can shake it off and do not let it drag you down and use it as an excuse to give up. Whether that means friends, drugs, money you got to shake it off. From then until this day that is what I’ve I have lived by. Anytime something tragic happens I go back to this story and ask myself should I let that hold me down, or should I be like that duck and repel the dirt that is my baggage, off and continue on. …..

In my dream I know I have to TURN UP the motivation and be THIRSTY in my approach and do not be afraid to DO ME and not forget the tools Hope Renewed gave me to better EUIP myself and not only REALIZE EVERY DREAM but to DARE TO DREAM as well.

Jamanni Gibson: University of Illinois Chicago-Urbana – Planning & Public Policy


Whenever people ask me about my career dreams and aspirations, I feel this immense sense of pride. I tilt my head up, adjust my proverbial tie,

And say in my most educated vernacular. “Well after I earn my Master’s degree in Urban Planning and Public Policy, I intend to take my expertise to Peoria and Chicago and help re-engineer dilapidated communities into thriving zones of communal prosperity!” I watch as their eyebrows rise to their forehead’s edges and smile and say with a chuckle, “You’ve got it all figured out don’t you? What made you so driven? I can now say with a smile, “Well my blood runs R.E.D!”

In order to materialize my career dreams of making an impact in communities like the one I am a product of, I plan to find the perfect balance between my studies and my service to others. …. It is my conviction that only when I walk amongst the people who need me, will I be able to help the people who need me. I will have to listen to their struggles on a level so personal, that I begin to feel them as my own struggles. I will have to be right there ready to help when a child feels that an education seems out of his or her reach. My presence must be felt when a family wonders where they will turn after the only local grocer relocates to another part of town. Being a part of these people’s lives will be one of the greatest assets I will possess to helping me attain my career aspirations…..

Realizing Every Dream (RED) represents so much to children like me. We have grown up in a time where so many people have told us to dream “realistically.” Sometimes there are good intentions behind this suggestion, but the problem lies in our community not believing that we can be the Warren Buffets, Barack Obamas or Oprah Winfreys of the world. We are strong, intelligent boys and girls who will only not believe it after so many of our community members tell us.

Brandon Williams, a very inspiring poet from the conference, mentioned to us a quote from Einstein that reads, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” HRYC wants our generation to get rid of any previous notions we may have that our dreams are too far out of reach. I am happy to say that I have the 2015 Hope Renewed Youth Conference as a new notch on my belt in my race to the future……

I set my own destiny and define my own limits. The only person holding me back is me. I will never again let someone tell me that I cannot transform my dreams for the future into memories of my accomplishments.

So one day when I have helped the people of my community and inspired the children that look up to me I know it will not stop there. I might have to set my sights higher and add a government title to my name. My family and Hope Renewed Youth Conference will still be there to guide me. For now, though, my” magnum opus” remains an empty canvas, waiting for the radiant watercolors of my ambitions to paint a bright future for all society to admire.