Education

Columbus area man grew up waiting on rain to survive. Now he’s changing lives across U.S.

He had to get water by taking a bucket out to the front porch and wait on the rain

Fredrick Bailey, who grew up destitute in LaGrange, Ga., is now the inaugural recipient of a national fellowship from Communities in Schools, thanks to the dropout prevention program that helped him.
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Fredrick Bailey, who grew up destitute in LaGrange, Ga., is now the inaugural recipient of a national fellowship from Communities in Schools, thanks to the dropout prevention program that helped him.

No electricity. No running water. No loving adult to care for him.

Often, those were the circumstances that greeted Fredrick Bailey when he came home from school while growing up in LaGrange, Ga.

Bailey was so destitute, he said, he resorted to taking a bucket out on the front porch and waiting on the rain to get fresh water.

But mentors from the Troup County School System chapter of Communities in Schools, helped him not only persevere to graduate on time from Callaway High School in 2006, he also became the inaugural recipient of the national dropout prevention program’s fellowship to help at-risk students succeed.

Bailey, 31, was selected among 14 applicants as the 2018-19 winner of the Bill & Jean Milliken Alumni Fellowship. He started the nine-month fellowship Aug. 27 at the CIS headquarters in Arlington, Va.

Founded by Bill Milliken in New York City during the 1970s, CIS has become the nation’s largest dropout prevention organization, serving approximately 2,300 schools in 25 states (including Muscogee County in Georgia) and the District of Columbia. CIS says on its website that school-based staff members “partner with teachers to identify challenges students face in class or at home and coordinate with community partners to bring outside resources inside schools. From immediate needs like food or clothing to more complex ones like counseling or emotional support, we do whatever it takes to help students succeed.”

Bailey credits CIS for helping him avoid the destructive path leading toward dropping out, going to jail, abusing drugs or becoming a teenage father.

“I am a product of what they stand for,” he said. “So I want to give back.”

In the fellowship competition, CIS alumni proposed ways to address a “public policy development project or problem of practice related to Integrated Student Supports,” which try to break down barriers preventing achievement.

The fellowship lasts for nine months and concludes with a presentation at the second annual Milliken Dialogues and Policy Summit in Washington, D.C., next spring.

During his fellowship, Bailey plans to advocate for CIS by developing relationships with governors and other state officials across the nation. He also wants to create work-based learning internships and apprenticeships for CIS high school students.

Infested home

Growing up on Mulberry Street in LaGrange, the home he lived in with his parents and sister was “infested with roaches and rats,” Bailey said. It was so small, he said, he slept on the couch.

He relied on free meals at school for breakfast and lunch. Despite having two employed parents — his father worked in a factory; his mother cleaned hotel rooms — he often didn’t have any food at home for dinner because they were more interested in alcohol and illegal drugs, he said.

Then, in seventh grade, his vision problems became a blessing in disguise.

One of his teachers noticed he had trouble seeing the classroom board. So she recommended him to the CIS after-school program, which provides free glasses among its services.

Bailey never failed a grade, but he was just getting by as a C student. After receiving the glasses, he said, “It was like seeing a whole new world. I didn’t realize how blind I was.”

He also saw a brighter future through CIS.

Shanitra Ransom, now the student assignment coordinator for Troup County, was a site coordinator for CIS after graduating from Columbus State University in 2001. She met Bailey when he was an eighth-grader in 2002. His site coordinator, Cynthia McWhorter Bryant, was ill, so she was the substitute that day at Callaway Middle School.

“I walked into the computer lab and saw a room full of seventh- and eighth-graders,” she said, “and they scared me to death. I was young, this was my first job, and I thought they were going to eat me alive.”

Bailey was the group’s leader and joker.

“All the kids loved him,” Ransom said. “He had lots of personality. … I learned quickly that if I was going to have any success, I needed to get the kid who had all the kids connected on my side.”

She realized Bailey’s joking around was “the mechanism he used to keep kids from picking and bullying him. He would be the life of the classroom, the class clown, to keep kids from targeting him. … But he was a good kid.”

Bailey explained, “I didn’t want to be talked about, so I kind of got all eyes on me but off of me, if that makes sense. … At home, I really didn’t get attention, so I knew I could get some here with my way of humor.”

A better home

Jerome Cofield, who was the Bailey’s CIS van driver, became a mentor and eventually his father figure.

Cofield, now a behavior specialist at Clearview Elementary School in Troup, drove that van as part of an outreach ministry through his church, Destiny Worship Center of Hogansville. CIS students need the van rides home because they miss the buses while participating in the after-school program.

Although he was the first student Cofield would drop off, Bailey liked to sit in the back of the van. Before he exited, Bailey would turn around and tell everyone, “I love you.”

“That really caught my attention,” Cofield said.

Also catching his attention was what Bailey would do next. Through the van’s rear-view mirror, Cofield would see Bailey walk down the street instead of into his house.

“I knew something was happening,” Cofield said, “but I was just waiting for him to tell me what was going on.”

Bailey finally did toward the end of his eighth-grade year. He confessed that he would go to his grandmother’s house or his uncle’s house instead. The living conditions were “just about as bad” there, Bailey said, but at least a caring adult was home.

One night a week later, Cofield said, “Something happened. He called and wanted to know if we could come and pick him up.”

“These issues were happening since I could remember,” Bailey said. “I was just tired of it. I was at a breakdown.”

Through graduation, Bailey lived with Cofield, his wife and two younger sons.

“My biological sons doubled up in a bedroom so he could have one by himself,” Cofield said.

The middle-class Brookstone subdivision in LaGrange is about 3 miles away from Mulberry Street, but it was a world away to Bailey.

“It felt like I got rich,” he said with a laugh. “… Ahhh, man. It was the best feeling. It was the first time I had my own room, and I had a walk-in closet. It really showed me that these people actually love me.”

Bailey, who started attending church with the Cofields, still was a class clown at school — but a more positive one. His grades improved along with his behavior.

Living with the Cofields helped him realize he had more control of his destiny than he thought.

“I gained a lot of confidence and self-awareness,” he said. “During those six years, I really learned more about myself. We had a lot of conversations about life, about God, about choices.”

At CIS, he got help in a variety of ways, such as schoolwork, decision making, anger management and leadership skills.

“We were constantly doing something,” Bailey said.

He quoted CIS founder Bill Milliken to make this point: “Programs don’t change people; relationships do.”

“If you don’t have the right people — like the Cofields, the Shanitras, Ms. McWhorter — nothing can change,” Bailey said. “You need caring people in your programs. … I think I always was a good kid. I just think my circumstances kind of altered my behavior, because some things I had to do to survive.”

Like stealing.

Although he never was arrested or involved in gangs, Bailey said, he stole candy from stores and resold it. Twice, he broke into houses to get more expensive items to sell, Bailey said.

“I didn’t sell any drugs, nor did I use drugs,” he said. “I was too scared to do all that stuff.”

Opportunity

In high school, Bailey twice was runner-up in a public speaking competition conducted by CIS of Georgia. Although he failed to win the new computer he sought, he did win something that proved to be more valuable.

CIS invited him to share his story with officials at the Georgia State Capitol.

“I was very honored to do that,” he said. “It was just so encouraging, motivating, to have the opportunity to do that.”

Remembering that feeling of empowerment when he was 16, Bailey now wants to create CIS Days at other state capitols. He has been speaking on behalf of CIS since 2003. He recently joined the CIS national alumni leadership council, one of 17 members. He also is on the Georgia CIS board of directors.

And on his birthday, June 30, he learned he won the fellowship.

“That was a great gift,” he said. “… I cried.”

Bailey earned an associate’s degree in early childhood education from Gordon State College in 2010, a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from the University of West Georgia in 2012 and a master’s degree in adult education and training from the University of Phoenix in 2014.

Before he started the CIS fellowship Aug. 27, Bailey had been a part-time English instructor at Atlanta Technical College since January, a student support services and educational program specialist at Georgia State University (2016-18), an academic adviser at Clayton State University (2015-16) and a student success coach at Gordon State College (2012-15).

Now, as CEO of Fredrick Bailey Enterprises, he is a motivational guest speaker, mentor and consultant. He wrote two books, both self-published by Brentwood: “Waiting on the Rain: Conquering Everyday Challenges” (2012) and “The Power of Your Story: A Guide to Writing Your Story” (2017).

Bailey is getting married in December to Kirsten Tarleton, a software trainer in Atlanta. They met at the proposal of their best friends from the University of West Georgia.

Although the fellowship will end in nine months, Bailey said, “this program could take off and they could ask me to stay.” Regardless, he hopes his initiatives remain.

“Whether they bring someone else for a second fellowship,” he said, “I hope there is a position made to continue this work.”

Ultimately, he said, “I hope to continue to mentor and speak, to share my story, and let others know that, regardless of what you experience, you’re not subject to becoming that later in life.”

Now, he is grateful his struggle had a purpose.

“I wanted better; I knew life was better,” he said. “It had to be a God thing. I just knew that this is not all I could experience or become.”

Bailey welcomes anyone interesting in helping him spread and improve CIS to contact him at fredrick@fredrickbailey.com.

According to a February 2018 report on the CIS website, “99 percent of CIS case-managed students stayed in school, 94 percent were promoted to the next grade, 93 percent graduated or received a GED and 88 percent improved their academics.”

CIS is funded by foundations, corporations and individual donors. The ones listed on its website are Altria, American Express, AT&T, Ballmer Group, Bank of America, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Edna McConnell Clark Foundation, FCA Foundation, Ford Foundation, Hudson Group, Lucky Brand, Rebuild Texas Fund and Robertson Foundation.

Mark Rice, 706-576-6272, @MarkRiceLE.

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