PALMDALE – The name Cynthia Beverly may not register in high profile philanthropic organizations or local charities. But Cynthia Beverly is known throughout the poor and disadvantaged communities of Lancaster and Palmdale, as the woman to call when your kids are in trouble and need some real help.
“I bring it for real,” she says.
If your son is about to be kicked out of school, you call Cynthia. If you suspect your child may be at risk for selling drugs or on the cusp of getting into gang-related activities, you’d better see Cynthia. If your child might be on his way to jail, you can’t afford an attorney, and you feel as though the entire system has given up on your son but you don’t want to, you knock on Cynthia’s door.
“Cynthia is an actual icon for people who were disadvantaged and grew up in the ghetto,” says NAACP President Juan Blanco.
“I think Ms. Beverly is a true advocate of students,” says David Vierra, Superintendent for Antelope Valley Union High School District. “She continues to advocate for all kids, whether it be in the district or outside the district at any age.”
Problem students who don’t listen to teachers, principals, law enforcement or even parents, are likely to listen to Cynthia.
“I bring it because I’ve been out there — the gang banging life, the street life, the drug life — I’ve been there,” Cynthia says. “But because I’ve been there, I can bring [problem teens] something. I can speak their language and encourage them to do better.”
More than anyone, Cynthia understands hardship and struggle.
In 1985, Cynthia’s mother was murdered by her stepfather in the family home.
“I came home and I seen my mother on the ground dead,” recalls Cynthia. Then 19, and mother to an 8-month-old son, Cynthia took refuge in the street life.
“I went to the streets hard and heavy and my lifestyle was crazy,” said Cynthia. “There was nobody there to tell me don’t go that route.”
While in the street life, Cynthia had another baby, and sent both children off to her grandmother’s so she could continue doing dirt on the streets. But somewhere along the way in her early 20s, Cynthia decided to get her life together.
“I wanted my kids to be proud of me because the way I was living, I wasn’t proud of myself,” she said. “So I had to do something different.”
Something different for Cynthia meant moving to Long Beach, enrolling in a nursing program, getting a place of her own and a car, and reaching out to kids of all ages who faced similar predicaments. Soon Cynthia was transporting needy kids in her neighborhood to church on Sundays.
By 2004, life was looking good for Cynthia. She had her fifth child, Marcus, whom she nicknamed Doodle-Doo. But six-months later, her baby died.
“I put my baby down to sleep and he never woke up again,” she said.
But this time, tragedy did not send Cynthia into a downward spiral. She willed herself into the opposite direction instead. She started a youth choir – the Doodle-Doo Youth Choir – at House to House Ministries in Long Beach. She taught the girls how to praise dance and the group took their act to various hospitals around Long Beach.
“We mainly went to convalescent hospitals,” she said. “I wanted my kids to bring some joy and happiness into these people’s lives because these people had nothing to live for.”
Cynthia’s journey eventually took her to Palmdale in 2008 because she was attracted to what she thought to be a nice quiet community. But Cynthia found herself battling with the school system instead.
Her son Antone, who was 17 years old at the time, had learning disabilities and anger issues. He also had an individualized education plan (IEP), which is a program designed to meet the unique educational needs of one child, who may have a disability, as defined by federal regulations. Cynthia claims school officials were not following her son’s IEP and as a result, his anger management issues often got the better of him and got him suspended practically every day. Antone’s problems culminated in October 2010 when he got into an altercation with school security guards, was handcuffed, and eventually shuffled off to juvenile hall.
The incident mobilized Cynthia to take action on behalf of her son and on behalf of minority students in the school system like him. Cynthia began meeting with parents, principals, and superintendents on her own to advocate on behalf of disadvantaged students.
“Initially our first manner of getting to know one another was through her child who was at one of our schools,” said Vierra. “It was a little bit of a rocky road at the beginning, but I think we struck a positive relationship.”
Cynthia’s positive relationship with Vierra and several other officials in the school system has made her the go to person for parents whose students are at risk of getting suspended from school or entering the prison system. She created the non-profit foundation One Way Up in 2010 to serve her purpose.
“One Way Up was her idea to help young people with problems in school,” says Blanco. “She’s stepped up to the plate and made a big difference.”
Like Cynthia’s son Antone, high school student Natasha Hill was also on an IEP. Natasha says her teacher was going over her scores with her one day and told her she might need to get medication for mild retardation. The news sent Natasha into a tailspin.
“My daughter was about to start running away because she felt like the teacher said she was retarded and stuff,” says Natasha’s mother Beverly. Beverly contacted Cynthia who ushered mother and daughter to the district office, as well as to an attorney’s office. After several meetings and discussions Natasha was put back into regular class.
Another mother, Minetta Johnson, recalls when her 11th grade son was jumped by a group of boys while walking home from school. Johnson says her son defended himself, but was later on the verge of being suspended due to the school’s no tolerance for fighting policy. That’s when Cynthia stepped in. Cynthia met with the principal and superintendent and pushed for an investigation into the incident. Johnson’s son was eventually allowed back to school with an apology.
Cynthia says there are many other stories like these and estimates she’s touched the lives of hundreds of students in the Antelope Valley alone.
“Whether if I was a friend, a mom, a sister, or just somebody they can talk to or somebody who can give them a hug and let them know that it’s okay, they will be alright,” said Cynthia. “I look at some of these kids who don’t have parents, some of these kids that are going through some real issues, and all people want to do is lock these kids up.”
“They say you’re supposed to know wrong from right at a certain age, but that is not necessarily true, because these kids don’t have the right influence in their life, so how will they know?”
Asked whether it gets exhausting trying to be so much, to so many people all the time, Cynthia can only shrug.
“I do it because I have to. I do it because it’s therapy to me,” she says. “Because from where I been to where I am today, I have to say I am truly blessed.”