About Me

PhotoMy name is Jerome “Geo Friend-Lee” Ellison. I’m a teacher, youth mentor and most of all, a Lifelong Learner.

Childhood

I was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised by my single grandmother. She became my legal guardian when I was 12, following the death of my parents because she did not want my older brother and I to go into foster care. As a kid, I watched my grandmother selflessly give her all to keep a roof over our head, food on the table, and clothes on our back. She is the same woman who at the age of 15, moved by herself from South Carolina to New York City because she wanted to give her mother who was struggling to raise her numerous siblings in a crowded household, one less mouth to feed. She is the same woman who after the death of my parents, went from being on welfare with no education to selling my mother’s used clothes on the street to make ends meet, to earning a career working for the city. Her strength through adversity taught me the importance of sacrifice, perseverance, hard work, determination and the power of positive thinking.

Shame, Fear and Doubt

There were numerous times in my life when I was ashamed of being an orphan. When I felt like I was being punished by the world and I wanted to give up. This was often during Christmas, Thanksgiving, Mother’s day, Father’s day, and the many other holidays that families come together to celebrate life. These moments became the time when I was forced to remember and mourn death and think about all of the things that I didn’t have in my life. It made me believe that I was too underprivileged to overcome my circumstances. There were many nights when I cried myself to sleep just thinking about  the many obstacles and challenges that I faced on my path to get a good education as an orphan living poor in the inner city. It was easier to believe that I would become a statistic because there were more people who I knew that ended up dead or in jail than people in my family or even in my neighborhood who graduated college. This was both a harsh reality and heavy burden.

Strength/EmpowermentFullSizeRender

But whenever I was down, I had my grandmother. She let me know that my struggles today would be my strengths tomorrow. I still remember when she noticed that my grades were starting to slip and she told me “Boy, don’t Waste the great opportunity to be the one to receive the education that I was not able to receive”. She helped me realize that the challenges that I face were God’s plan to prepare me to be great. Every obstacle was to prepare me to be strong enough to disprove the negative stereotypes, glass ceilings and the many other difficulties of growing up black and poor in America. She helped me realize that even though I was an “orphan” growing up poor in the inner city, I could one day become a first generation college graduate and continue to reach my full potential as long as I made sacrifices, worked hard and kept my eye on the prize. One of the proudest moments of my life, was standing on stage in Brooklyn receiving a college degree in education, as my grandmother who barely received any formal education watched in the crowd and my mother looked down on me from the skies above.

Recently, my grandmother was diagnosed with lung cancer. Every day I watch her withstand extreme pain and fatigue as she fights this gruesome battle. Every day at the elderly age she continues to work for the city. Every day this reminds me of how fortunate I am to have her in my life. It reminds me of how fortunate I was to have been raised by a strong black woman who grew up in the south during the 60′s. It reminds me of how she helped me believe that anything is possible even when the cards seemed to be stacked against me.

My grandmother and my deceased mother are the two main reasons why I felt empowered enough to become a teacher and receive my master’s degree in education even though there are very few black male teachers in our country.  Mostly because at a young age they made me aware of the immeasurable power of a quality education. Still to this day, I am empowered by their  strength and I often reflect on the times when they have looked me in the eyes and encouraged me to always reach my full potential. It is because of my mother and grandmother that I constantly ask myself: How can I make them proud? Am I striving toward my full potential or am I wasting a great opportunity today? Is there a way for me to use my unique experience, gifts, perspective and voice to make a positive difference on this planet in a bigger way?

Purpose

This is why I created this Podcast. Don’t Waste Our Planet (DWOP) is a term of encouragement to all people(especially our youth) to not waste any opportunity to reach their full potential and to help make our world a better place for future generations to come. I am committed to sharing my unique experiences, perspective and voice to uplift and empower our youth and help bring positive change to the world.

Simply put, I am a kid from Bushwick, Brooklyn just trying to make my mother and grandmother proud. Thanks for taking the time to learn a little bit about me.

Don’t Waste Our Planet

-Geo Friend-Lee