Threading together with POTUS
Early in the day on October 19, 2015, Tavian heard someone was waiting for him at the ACCE
office. “I was scared that it was my grandmother, but it was Rachel [Duncan, his Thread
GrandParent]. She told me we were going to the White House. The White House? OMG! I was
Jameel was told at lunch that someone from Thread had texted his Mom that he was going to
Washington. He remembers thinking, “OK, that’s cool, but I’ve been there before.” But at the
end of the day, when Richard Messick, his Thread Head of Family, told him they were going to
the White House, he was amazed. “Wow! The White House!”
Rachel drove the two boys to DC for White House Astronomy Night, a Celebration of Science,
Technology, and Space. They passed through security and onto the grounds of the White House.
Tavian noticed the gardens outside and Jameel was impressed with the art on the walls inside.
Stations were set up outside, not only with telescopes, but with virtual reality goggles. Tavian
remembers someone asking if we wanted to go to Mars. “It was so real! I kept trying to grab
what I saw in front of me. When you turned around the picture changed.”
But the virtual tour of Mars was not even the highlight of the day. That came later with the
announcement, “The President of the United States!” Rachel says, “It was not a very big
crowd – maybe 100 people.” Tavian was astounded. “I couldn’t believe I was there!
Everybody had their phones out, taking pictures. He wasn’t there long, but it didn’t matter.
It was the President!” Mr. Obama acknowledged some of the people attending like
Bill Nye, the Science Guy, and Mae Jamison, first African American woman in space, as well
as other astronauts. Jameel remembers the President’s prediction that we should be able to
fly to Mars by 2030.
After meeting with the President, the students split into groups to see exhibits and meet more
people. Their favorite part was being introduced to the next four astronauts who are going into
space. The astronauts talked about knocking into each other and the walls. “It really surprised
me,” said Tavian, “that when they got back to earth they had to learn how to hold their heads up.
They weren’t used to using the muscles in their neck.” Then the students looked through
telescopes; one was pointed at the moon; another, at a cluster of stars. To Tavian, the moon
looked so perfect, it almost seemed fake.
There was also a planetarium dome set up to display the night sky. Jameel recalls, “We could
see what Mars looked like. Then we saw Saturn, Pluto, and other planets.” They also enjoyed
the planetarium because it was heated and the evening had turned brisk.
Both young men will remember this day for a very long time. Tavian says, “It meant the world
to me. Other people don’t get the opportunity to go to the White House and meet the President. I
was fortunate to be there that night, with that beautiful moon!”
Thread “was willing to invest in me!”
When she was invited to join the Thread program in 2007, Christina Tauypen was excited and
“surprised that people were willing to invest in me! I thought special programs were only for
students who were doing really well.” She had done well in middle school with good grades,
varied activities, and friends. But at Dunbar, Christina didn’t know anyone, plus there were
issues at home. “I felt very alone and questioned my abilities. I had given up on myself.” Her
But with Thread, Christina found a new supportive community that restored her confidence and
inspired her to do her best. “Thread pushes people together, helps you see life — and yourself
— in a different way, gives you new perspectives.”
Following her graduation in 2010, Christiana got her certification as a pharmacy technician and
is currently in her senior year at Morgan State University, majoring in sociology. She also holds
two jobs: as a pharmacy tech for CVS and, at the National Academic League (NAL), as Assistant
to the Director of the Baltimore Office.
You could say that Christina is paying it forward at NAL as she assists in coordinating a robust
extra curricular program to help middle school students prepare for and participate in
competitive debates. When she had the opportunity to officiate at an event, she could see how
excited the young people were as they sharpened their skills in academics and collaboration.
With NAL, she provides the students with a special opportunity, like she was given by Thread.
Last year, Christina had the very good fortune to travel to Nigeria, where she has extended family.
As she connected with family and the families of friends, she embraced the lack of easy internet
connections, allowing herself to focus on lots of new personal contact. Attending a funeral as well
as a wedding, Christina observed that traditional rituals made both these events joyful celebrations of life.
Her experiences in Nigeria helped Christina see her future more clearly. Public health has
become increasingly important to her. After graduation from Morgan, she plans to enter a
combined undergraduate/master’s degree program to become a nurse practitioner. “With that, I
can go anywhere in the world, maybe back to Nigeria, and help people get basic health care and
That lonely freshman from Thread’s Cohort 2 at Dunbar is now a strong young woman preparing
to take on the world!
“I could have been a Thread student”
As the second cohort of Thread students at Frederick Douglass High School gets to know their
Thread Families, Ms. Miaela Thomas, Guidance Counselor and Thread liaison at Douglass, is
enthusiastic about the program. She knows that relationships and mentors are what helped her
accomplish so much.
Born to teen parents and raised by a mother on public assistance for a brief time, Guidance
Counselor Maiela Thomas rarely saw her father. He enlisted into the military as a means to
support her and was away for most of her childhood. She wanted to escape poverty and get more
out of life more than her parents and the people in her neighborhood. “I could have been a
Thread student,” she says.
Ms. Thomas’s grandmothers stepped in and made that dream possible by exposing her to
different experiences and cultures. They took her to museums, showed her the ways of the
world, taught her financial literacy, and introduced her to a wide range of friends at the hospital
where her maternal grandmother worked. As a girl, Ms. Thomas was involved in the Girl
Scouts, dance and cheerleading; then, a high school English teacher helped her get scholarships
to college. In tune with the Thread philosophy, she believes it “takes a village” to raise a child.
Today, Ms. Thomas is a first generation college graduate from Morgan State, with a Masters
Degree from Johns Hopkins University in School Counseling.
She works closely with Thread Site Coordinator, Eli Pessar, to ensure that Douglass’ Thread
students are progressing and flourishing in school. Because she did well in school and has had a
successful career path with the help of “the village” that raised her, Ms. Thomas wants to give
back and help the kids at her school.
She appreciates that Thread volunteers are trained to better understand the challenges the
students face. Is their attendance low because they have to take care of a family member? Are
they failing because they have no electricity or insufficient food?
Although the program is still relatively new at Douglass, Ms. Thomas has seen benefits already.
For instance, she has observed one student mature greatly from last year and hopes that the
student’s grades will improve this year along with that maturity. Ms. Thomas looks forward to
helping enroll the next cohort of students who could really benefit from ten years with Thread, in
the same way that she benefitted from all the people who helped her achieve her goals.