TIMOTHY KING, like many local minority youths, grew up in the marginalized community of East Savannah, an unsung sector of the city known for its rough conditions.
“It was normal at the time,” he reflects. “The violence, the gangs, the drugs . . . you have a lot of exposure to those kinds of things pretty early in life, so they don’t tend to be as alarming.”
Despite this repressive environment, King remained motivated and pursued a post-secondary education at Howard University, from which he gained a wealth of useful information.
“While studying finance, I learned a lot about the ways decisions are made and how that dictates where resources are distributed,” he explains.
And for many communities like the one in which King grew up, this means the less resources received, the less opportunities available, and consequently, the more illness, poverty, violence, and ultimately the more exclusion that community is plagued with.
“I know I couldn’t change the situation, but one thing I could do is help change the people, change the community and change how they interact with one another.”
It was this realization that led King to found For Heart Sake, a local, community-based nonprofit committed to engaging, enriching and empowering communities like East Savannah.
FHS seeks to empower residents to inspire and initiate change within their own community through civic engagement and a common vision. King’s vision is “to see more resources enter our community.” And FHS has worked to realize this vision by bringing life-enhancing resources to East Savannah.
Soon after its formation, FHS was embraced and supported by longstanding community organizations including 100 Black Men of Savannah, New Beginning Community Christian Church, Forsyth Farmers Market and Healthy Savannah.
Thanks to the vision of Healthy Savannah’s, Paula Kreissler, King was introduced to Molly Lieberman, founder and former Creative Director Loop It Up Savannah. Together, this duo has recently launched a movement called, Empower Savannah, which creates opportunities for youth empowerment through a partnership with 21st Century Community Learning Centers. The Empower Savannah afterschool program is currently piloting at Shuman Elementary School and Hubert Middle School, serving grades 2-8.
“We take fifteen students from every grade level who traditionally struggle in math and reading and tend to display extreme behaviors in the classroom. We have this fundamental belief that these individuals are leaders,” King says.
“If you think about Pareto’s Principle, or the 80/20 rule, it’s not everybody who has failing grades, it’s not everybody who’s committing crime. It’s not a lot of them, just 20%, but people believe otherwise.”
He continues, “We truly believe that if we engage the 20% that are a part of the supposed problem and make them a part of solution, the remaining 80% will be influenced in a more positive way.”
King knows “problem students” can change the whole dynamic of a class, and that intervention with a supportive and nurturing environment can alter these students’ courses for good.
“I believe these individuals with behavioral problems are just individuals with unmet needs. And if we view those extreme behaviors merely as responses to unmet needs and really try to get down to the cause, then we could find solutions to every problem in society that exists,” he says.
The FHS afterschool program utilizes a group mentoring model in which students develop each other while developing their community at the same time.
To engage the students and the greater Savannah community, FHS is putting on a community-wide, sports-themed cultural celebration.
“We will be serving thirteen local schools with about 1000 students. Think about the families we can reach and the potential to create new narrative. I think that right now in Savannah, there’s definitely a divide; we’re hoping to change that. And I think this event gives us a real shot at doing that.”