“I only leave the house now to take out the garbage,” said Devonta Hymes from his home on Milwaukee’s north side. The Washington High School senior’s caution comes from an up close and personal view of COVID-19. While his immediate household—his father and youngest brother with whom he lives—remain healthy, Hymes’ grandmother and 35-year-old aunt are sick with the virus, his grandmother especially so.
“She was on life support,” Hymes said. “But we got a call the other day that she was doing better.”
Despite the shadow COVID-19 casts over Hymes’ family, on the phone he sounds upbeat and raring to go. He keeps a “Vision Board” at his house, a positive planning strategy he learned from his work with Milwaukee’s Running Rebels, a youth mentoring program founded by Victor Barnett in 1980.
“A Vision Board is a layout of how you want to see things develop. A dream board. You mark down goals like graduating from high school or just a little dream of meeting a celebrity or going to a concert. Anything.”
Hymes shares this practice and more with peers through a variety of leadership roles. He’s a Washington High School Ambassador, a student council member, a spokesperson for the Black and Latino Male Achievement Association and a youth leader with Running Rebels.
For a guy who isn’t going anyplace at the moment, Hymes appears to be going places.
PBS Wisconsin asked Hymes what it was like to finish high school from the confines of his room.
PBS Wisconsin: What’s a typical day now?
Devonta Hymes: Wake up. Maybe not at the normal time. I wake up with a lot on my mind. What’s the way I can change the world? Or maybe just my surroundings right now? I try to keep negativity to a minimum. When I see negative things on social media I don’t share it.
PBS Wisconsin: What are the challenges of doing your studies online rather than in a classroom?
Devonta Hymes: I’m a fast learner. When things are hands on, person-to-person, I’m fast. Online doesn’t give that. Things are also more on your own time (with online). That’s good and bad. Lack of structure is a challenge.
PBS Wisconsin: How are your friends dealing with online-only study?
Devonta Hymes: Some people are like, “they’re just going to pass us anyway,” so they’re just giving up. Others are doing okay. Others weren’t on track before and are giving up. I have friends of every sort. I have friends who aren’t on the right track because they may not have a mother or father. So they contact me. Every day. If they have problems we talk about them.
PBS Wisconsin: What do you think about the job teachers are doing?
Devonta Hymes: Online contact with teachers started up right away. Teachers started posting up online starting that Saturday we got out of schools. Teachers were open to giving you their emails in case people were struggling. I love school. I really do. But there are some things schools are not doing right. We’re being taught with the bare minimum. Lack of teachers in our building. I like to help teachers out if they need it.
PBS Wisconsin: How else are you using your time beyond your schoolwork?
Devonta Hymes: I promote things on social media that keep people’s day going. I’m developing a YouTube channel. Doing my online work. I really want to graduate and go to college.
PBS Wisconsin: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Devonta Hymes: I plan to be a college graduate with my Bachelor and Masters degree. Opening up a non-profit here in Milwaukee and do something similar to Running Rebels and work with at-risk kids. I want to give back.
PBS Wisconsin: Even though you’re practicing safe-at-home, are you afraid of getting the virus?
Devonta Hymes: I am but I’ve been quarantined and social distancing. I’m worried about my friends. When my grandma got it I thought this is definitely real.
PBS Wisconsin: What do you have to say to other high school seniors in Wisconsin?
Devonta Hymes: We’ve been fighting for so long. We fought too hard to give up now. Especially since the end of this chapter will lead to a better chapter. No matter if you’re going to college or into a trade. We fought too hard to give up. People who feel that way? Like they want to give up? I understand where they’re coming from.