In Houston, 60% of children enter kindergarten without the required reading level needed, while another 63% of Houston 3rd graders read below the typical grade level. According to LiteracyNow.com, a whopping 85% of children who come in contact with the juvenile justice system are ‘functionally’ illiterate (meaning they lack the literacy needed to cope with tasks at work, or everyday things such as reading a bill, responding to an email, applying for a driver’s license, etc.) Unfortunately, poverty compels and escalates illiteracy, as students who live in poverty are more likely to drop out of school or fail to graduate in time.
But Marvin Pierre is inspired and motivated by the growth of a knowledge in a young person’s mind, so despite these devastating statistics, the New York native has always been passionate to usher change to the Houston community no matter how hard he has to work.
Up until 2008, Pierre successfully worked for Wall Street in New York for Goldman Sachs. The recession resulted in him losing his job and during the inevitable down time, he decided to switch to education. “One of the things that always inspired me was that I felt that my personal upbringing and some of the resources and support that I received helped me to overcome some of the childhood barriers and challenges that I encountered,” Pierre shared. He became aware of the struggles faced against young black men and how many black boys are reading below their grade levels. Noting the mentors he had in his life that helped him strengthen his knowledge and will to do better in life, he desired to turn around and give that same mentorship back to the young people he had a desire to lead.
Motivated by a strong passion to “pay it forward” as he put it, Pierre came to Houston in 2013 with a strong hope to make a change in the lives of young men. He became an assistant principal, in charge of an all-boys middle school until 2016. “I ended up transitioning into nonprofit mainly because I was looking to address a bigger issue in our city, which was the school to prison pipeline,” he commented. At the time, over 12,000 kids a year were being referred to the juvenile justice system, and many of the referrals were coming from Pierre’s school. From then on, he decided to take his experiences learned from his school to address the pressing issue: breaking generational poverty and curses for youth in Houston, caused by illiteracy.
This same desire grew even stronger when his best friend invited him to speak to a group of young men in her class. He had later learned that the men were reading below their grade levels, and he knew he wanted to fix that issue. “I just felt the urgency to do something about it or attempt to do something about it,” he commented. “That switch went off and then I said, ‘I’m gonna take a chance in education.'” Pierre then sent an email to contacts in his phone asking for more information on what he should do next, as his goal was to get involved in education. Having no prior knowledge, degrees or certifications related to education, Pierre built his resume with more experiences and positions to expand his knowledge, and found his calling. “This was my calling, and I’ve honestly never looked back. I really am just super thankful that I found my purpose.”
Fast forward to now, and 8 Million Stories now helps young people who have been disconnected from schools, are too old, or under credited to earn their high school equivalecy degree. They also get job training and employment opportunities, as well as social emotional needs. Through an effective support system as well as the right tools needed to teach them appropriate interdepent skills, Pierre believes the students will be positioned to either transition successfully into post-secondary education opportunities or career pathways that ultimately will help break generational poverty. “In many cases, this is the first chance for a lot of our kids,” Pierre shared. “They never had an opportunity to be seen and be given the resources and support that we all know is critical in ensuring that kids are successful.” Pierre serves children between the ages of 16 to 21. His focus is to meet the kids where they are and make sure they are doing proper assessments of what their needs are aware of what kind of support the program can give them. Pierre and his team ready themselves for the obstacles the children may have by providing counseling services and other local healthcare services that can provide deeper levels of intervention if necessary. 8 Million Stories works to gain the trust of their students, because they know that along with trust, comes success.
Pierre is grateful for the growing pains he’s encountered in the beginning of establishing 8 Million Stories, because it has resulted in a very strong organization today. “We’re super resilient and super committed to just giving our kids the best opportunities possible. And I think those early years really helped us develop some tough skin around this work. I’m super grateful that we didn’t throw in the towel when things really looked challenging for us. And there were all signs pointing that we wouldn’t sustain and we wouldn’t be here four years later.” There were hidden costs and payments needed to be made that the team were not aware of, which they had to work themselves through. Their belief in their mission pushed them through the hard times, because they wanted to be a support team for young children without education. “Those hard times really impacted the work that we do and just not taking anything for granted and knowing that to do this kind of work for this population of students, we’re going to have to be innovative in how we service our students, how we fund our program, and how we create deeper connections with the community.”
Pierre wants everyone to know that 8 Million Stories is a great program. This program is specifically for the students that don’t check all the boxes and are often pushed out of school systems and social service opporitunies. “They can become a burden for our community because we have not given them a fair chance to really develop and grow up as healthy adults. 8 Million Stories on paper is not this big program, but we’re mighty in the work that we’re doing, and we’re strong in how we service our students.” Pierre wants to create better learning alternatives for students that don’t fit the mold of the traditional school and educational system. If this is done, then more students will become more successful, and will transition into adulthood more smoothly and communities would become stronger. “It’s going to be on our children to break generational poverty, but we have to equip them with the resources and the skills to do that.”
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