Change-Maker Returns Home to Spark Passion in Compton Kids
When author and illustrator Marcus Newsome was a kid, he saw lightning hit a telephone pole. And in a flash, Lightning Strike was born.
Lightning Strike is the superhero alter-ego of a 17-year-old kid from Compton who’s determined to bring peace to his crime-ridden city with his electric superpowers. Based on his experiences growing up in Compton during the 90’s, Marcus created his own comic book series to make sense of the turmoil and violence around him.
Lightning Strike is on a mission to change his city for the better. Now, almost twenty years later, change-maker, Marcus Newsome and J3 Foundation have joined forces to do just that.
Marcus Newsome is a special author collaborator with J3’s Cozy Reading Club, a free afterschool reading program for kids in underserved neighborhoods. He lives in San Diego now but each year he returns to Compton Schools, partnering with J3, to give back to the community he grew up in.
J3 Foundation teaches their students more than just reading. With partnerships like Marcus, they intentionally designed their 30-week program to help their kids find community, connection, and purpose.
“It’s impactful and necessary for these kids to see someone from their neighborhood — someone who grew up in the same circumstances — succeed in doing something they love and are excited about,” says Stacee Longo, Senior Program Director at J3 Foundation. “The kids think, ‘Hey! If he can do this coming up in our community, nothing’s stopping me!’ “
For these students, Marcus reflects everything they can be, too.
During his guest visit, a surge of energy runs through the classroom as Marcus talks about his work. He engages the students with a hands-on drawing lesson and reads aloud from his book. Afterward, the kids borrow his comic books from J3’s carefully curated lending library.
Along the way, he shares a few life lessons about perseverance, hope, and following your passion.
Like most J3 students, Marcus struggled with poverty growing up. On his first J3 visit, a few kids approached him after class because he shared how he had lost his brother to gun violence. He tells the kids his mother was a single parent, working two jobs as a nurse to raise 11 kids. When he started hanging out with the wrong crowd, his mother—to whom he says he owes everything—wrote him a letter from jail telling him to get his act together.
So, he did. He practiced and persevered until he made something out of his passion.
“All drawings start out very rough,” he says as he takes the class through the drawing lesson. “Everything gets cleaned up. So, if it doesn’t come out how it should, just keep doing it. The more you do it, the better you get.”
What a great life lesson.
As the kids put pencil to paper, their creative juices flow. Sometimes, lightning strikes.
It was as if something ignited inside Carlos, a J3 student at Laurel Elementary. Buzzing with excitement, he stayed with Marcus for 30 minutes after class and told him everything he planned to do with his art. The next session, Carlos brought in a graphic novel he had written and illustrated himself and asked for an autograph. Marcus was so moved by Carlos’ passion, that he gave the student his own personal sketchbook for inspiration.
For Marcus, these connections with the students electrify him and keep him going. When the kids ask him to sign their sneakers, phones, and backpacks, he’s overwhelmed with joy and purpose.
“I owe them all I can be, to go even farther than where I am,” he says with the heart of a real-life superhero.
Together with J3, Marcus is helping kids just like Carlos find their own superpowers.
You can help bring these superpowers to light, too. Join the fight against childhood illiteracy with Marcus Newsome and J3 Foundation. Donate to help them reach this year’s goal of opening 24 more schools to reach 650 more children who need our help.
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The J3 Cozy Reading Club teaches critical reading competencies through an evidence-based and culturally-relevant curriculum. It allows our Compton students, regardless of income or background, to receive a high-quality after-school reading intervention program. As the Director of Educational Services and former K-8 school principal, I have seen how the J3 Cozy Reading Club has impacted our students’ academic and social development and continues to do so each year. Most importantly, our students love attending J3 sessions! Thank you, J3 Foundation!
Struggling to Read, J3’s Cozy Reading Club Makes it Fun
“The Cozy Reading Club, J3 Foundation’s premier reading program, is special in how intentional every piece of the two-hour after-school program is,” Stacee Longo, Sr. Program Director of J3 Foundation says. “We take a holistic approach with our students by focusing on reading skills, mindfulness, social-emotional learning, restorative practices, and so much more.”
J3 Foundation is raising $864,000 to expand its Cozy Reading Club to 24 additional schools, double its book collection from 5,000 books to 10,000, and to reach 650 more students of color who are struggling to read.
A $1,500 donation will add 100 books to the J3 collection for our students to read. A $5,000 donation will support the costs of hiring highly qualified educators from our partner schools. A $12,000 donation can fund an entire trimester for a school in need. And a $36,000 donation will fund an entire year of the Cozy Reading Club for 30 students at one school.
“The magic of our program is that we provide a safe space where all students get to rediscover the joy and magic of a good book,” says Longo.
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