Celebrity chef Jeff Henderson will share his story of prison to prosperity with more than a thousand teens in poor and rural schools across South Carolina.
The Sept. 13 school tour, organized by EdVenture, will start at C.A. Johnson High in Columbia – a school where nearly every student lives in poverty – before heading to schools along the “Corridor of Shame,” the name of a 2005 documentary on the plight of South Carolina’s neglected, rural schools.
EdVenture vice president Nikki Williams said that phrase, which she first heard as a teen growing up in Hartsville, drove her career and is the reason behind the tour.
“I really want our students and children to know you don’t have to let your address define you,” said Williams, a former teacher. “Instead of saying, ‘I overcame these obstacles despite of where I’m from,’ I want them to say, ‘I overcame obstacles because of where I’m from.’ ”
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The “Be A Boss Youth Empowerment Tour” includes schools in Hartsville, Orangeburg, St. George, Allendale and Barnwell. It expands on the educational outreach efforts of EdVenture, better known as the children’s museum in Columbia.
“We are excited to welcome Chef Jeff to South Carolina’s classrooms,” said state schools Superintendent Molly Spearman. His inspirational life story “will motivate students and show them that anything is possible with hard work and determination.”
Henderson, who spent nearly a decade in prison for a California drug conviction, will also visit a medium-security state prison in Fairfax. After leaving prison, “Chef Jeff” went on to become the first African-American chef at Las Vegas’ Bellagio Hotel, the host of Food Network shows and a best-selling author.
It’s the second time EdVenture has brought Henderson to South Carolina. At its first Youth Summit last spring, “we could see the life-changing impact his personal story had on the teens,” said EdVenture CEO Karen Coltrane. “Through his skillful storytelling, he took everyone in the room along as he found his life purpose and learned to make better decisions.”
EdVenture plans to bring Henderson back for its second Youth Summit next spring.
The reason for the “Corridor of Shame” documentary – an education funding lawsuit from poor, rural districts – remains unresolved, 23 years after its filing.
The state Supreme Court ruled in November 2014 that poor, rural students lack educational opportunities and ordered lawmakers to fix the system. Legislative leaders submitted a report in June to meet the court’s deadline, which laid out education increases in the budget and four laws passed earlier this year.
But attorneys for the rural districts contend the report was an accounting of legislative meetings and list of budget items that don’t address the problems, not a plan. Their court reply notes that two of the four new laws call for more study. The others define the expectations of a high school graduate and create an “Office of Transformation” in the Department of Education.