Eleven-year-old DeAndre DeCarmo knows exactly what he wants to do when he grows up.
“I want to be in law enforcement or be a lawyer,” DeAndre said. “I want to get all the drugs off the streets so that younger youth will be able to lead wholesome lives.”
DeAndre, a seventh-grader from Co-op City, Bronx, was wandering along the bright red walls of Dream Center Harlem on Saturday to celebrate the opening of the youth center’s permanent home at 119th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.
The middle schooler’s ambition is exactly what the Dream Center, an initiative by the First Corinthian Baptist Church, encourages.
“The thought we came from is that most people dream,” Mike Walrond, a pastor at the church and the director of the Dream Center, said. But the key, he said, is “dreaming while awake.”
“We want to be those kinds of escorts to help escort those people to the fulfillment of their dreams so they can see their vision come true,” he added.
In the new building, three blocks north of the church, inspirational quotes and words adorned the walls, and a blackboard on one wall displayed a “dream of the day.”
The idea for the Dream Center came to Walrond when he met a nine-year-old boy in Durham, North Carolina who, when asked whether he wanted to go to Duke University, said that he “just can’t.”
“It blew my mind,” Walrond said, “because somewhere in this nine-year-old’s mind, he’s already had a limit that’s told him that Duke is something he can’t attain. And that for me really sparked the idea to really empower young people.”
At the ceremony, Rep. Charles Rangel told the kids to inspire themselves by solving their generation’s most pressing problems.
“The problem that old people have, they’ve forgotten what made life exciting for us,” Rangel said. “And somehow we need a visionary. And that means you guys have the means for yourself to find something that excites you.”
The Dream Center will run a yearlong Visionary Academy beginning this fall, aimed at providing young people with the resources to start their own community action projects. There, 25 students will study topics in social justice, entrepreneurship, and the arts, learning to “take everything they’ve learned and develop it into their own community project,” pastor Tory Liferidge, an administrator at Dream Center, said.
Liferidge expects each student to have developed a project to fruition by the end of the year.
Khadim Diop will be enrolled in Visionary Academy this fall. Wearing a blue Dream Center T-shirt, the 15-year old sophomore at Repertory Company High School, said he hopes to one day become an actor.
“I want to be known around the world,” Khadim said. “Right now, I’m just known in New York City. Eventually New York state. Then eventually the United States. Then eventually North America, then South America, then Africa, then Asia, and then Europe, Australia, even Antarctica.”
His friend and fellow actor, Bharata Selassie, 15, shares a similar vision. “I want to pursue my acting career more,” he said. “Movies, plays, just anything.”
DeAndre, Khadim, and Bharata all took part in a five-week Dream Center pilot program over the summer and consider the place a second home.
“If you need help with your grades or tests, or if you need someone just to hug you or just give you some emotional support, you can’t really get that at school,” DeAndre said. “This is different from school. This is a place where you can just come and talk to other people, socialize, and get to see other people’s dreams.”