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From afterschool to the White House: A conversation with Life Pieces to Masterpieces alum Cateo Hilton

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From afterschool to the White House: A conversation with Life Pieces to Masterpieces alum Cateo Hilton

In February of this year, soon-to-be-high-school-graduate Cateo Hilton of Washington, D.C.’s Life Pieces to Masterpieces afterschool program was asked to speak at the White House at an event marking the end of Black History Month. Life Pieces to Masterpieces’ Andrew Blickle serves as an Afterschool Ambassador. In the following post, Matt Freeman from the Afterschool Ambassador program interviews Hilton about his afterschool experience and his trip to the White House.

What first drew you to your afterschool program? How did you find out about it, and first get connected to it?

When I was four years old, my grandmother and my mother wanted my brother and me to have a program to go to every day, since it wasn’t safe for us to play outside in our neighborhood, especially at that time.

What's been your experience with Life Pieces To Masterpieces? How has it affected you – your goals, your expectations of yourself, your family life?

My experience has always been amazing, and I’ve been a part of the organization for nearly my whole life. As I progressed through the program, I made some of my best friends who I consider to truly be my brothers, and I had mentors who helped me progress through school and life and supported my whole family. Now that I have the opportunity to be a mentor for my younger peers, it’s a responsibility I take seriously, and I consider it poetic.

You've got a strong commitment to giving back? Tell us about that, please.

Life Pieces helped shape my identity as a young man and sharpen my voice. Being a part of this organization - this brotherhood - surrounded by people who look like me, doing incredible things in this world, helped me realize that I can be anything I want in this world. So, that is something I want to give to the next generation of children in my community who are also struggling to see positive examples.

In a few months I will go to college at Delaware State, and I’ll be sad to say goodbye to these children. But that’s what gives me strength in knowing that I will be successful - that I will succeed and graduate from this HBCU and go on to attend law school, because I am a role model for my younger brothers at Life Pieces. They need to see that example of someone who sets a goal and commits to it, no matter what obstacles they face. And when I become a lawyer, I will use that degree to continue to give back and create change in my community.

COVID-19 touched your family, we know. Can you tell us about that experience?

I live with my grandmother, just me and her. My grandfather actually passed shortly before the pandemic, and I’ll never forget that day and how it hurt me. It was a weird experience, being raised by my grandmother and then becoming the man of the house when I was still in many ways a child. Living with her also meant the pandemic hit us harder. My grandma is considered to have a health condition that made her high risk, which meant that I feared for her life. I didn’t know it at the time, but my fear was a part of the guilt I carried inside about my grandfather but never expressed, being strong for my grandma and those around me. I went out and carried groceries, did laundry, and made her breakfast, lunch and dinner. I did this from the very beginning, as rumors around Covid - some true and some false - were spreading in the community. She still caught the virus and I started especially doing everything I could so that she could just be calm and fight it without having to worry about anything. She eventually was able to recover, and ever since then I still get groceries, and do the laundry and everything necessary to keep her healthy and safe.

You recently participated in an event at the White House with the President and Vice President. How did that come to happen?

Life Pieces is a part of the Black Coalition Against COVID, an amazing group of community leaders working across different communities to offer support. And we had youth representatives, including myself and a close friend, Tory’elle Coleman, join some of those meetings to offer our perspectives. So, when the White House approached the Coalition about young people who could participate in this event, they reached out to Life Pieces. We had 48 hours from when I learned about the event to when I spoke! I wrote the first draft with one of my mentors, Andrew Blickle, helping with suggestions, then we sent the speech to the White House. We went back and forth with edits, while I had to race home from Pittsburgh (where I had been visiting my mother.) Then another mentor at Life Pieces took me to buy a new suit, and I was ready!

How did it feel when you got the invitation?

It didn’t feel real, and it still sometimes doesn’t. I kept expecting it to fall apart. Once I was in the building, that’s where I really started to get nervous, but the Vice President spoke to me for a while and helped me to calm down.

Most of us don't meet too many presidents and vice presidents, or speak at White House events, so tell us what the experience was like for you, please.

It was something I will never forget. I got to walk out to the stage shoulder to shoulder with the President and First Lady, and then introduced the President at the event. Then the Vice President spoke and shared kind words about me with the crowd. When it was my turn, I was extremely nervous, but I had already spoken for a while with the Vice President, and some with the President as well. Once I was able to really see that they are human beings just like me, it was easier. The audience interacting was amazing, too, especially when I announced my desire to go to Delaware State, and the President stood up and cheered me on, leading to a whole standing ovation.

Afterward, I got to meet the President of Delaware State University, and I’ve recently accepted a full four-year Presidential Scholarship to the school. I also met the Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson, and many other heroes of mine that day. Calling my mother and grandmother after was another amazing experience, because I could hear how proud they were. And when I got to Life Pieces that day (because I still had to show up as an afterschool mentor!), I got a standing ovation from the boys, who had all watched the video before I got there.

You just graduated high school. What's next for you?

I’m excited to begin college. But I’m also excited by the future for Life Pieces, and the legacy here that I’m helping build. On the exact same day of my graduation June 18th, the White House invited one of my younger peers - someone I mentor - to give a speech introducing the Vice President at a Juneteenth celebration. Even though that event was not aired on television, so I couldn’t watch it, I’m still so proud that he had that opportunity, and I hear he did an amazing job, too!

This is an example of the impact I can have as a positive example, and that idea will keep driving me to accomplish all my goals in life!

 

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From afterschool to the White House: A conversation with Life Pieces to Masterpieces alum Cateo Hilton

In February of this year, soon-to-be-high-school-graduate Cateo Hilton of Washington, D.C.’s Life Pieces to Masterpieces afterschool program was asked to speak at the White House at an event marking the end of Black History Month. Life Pieces to Masterpieces’ Andrew Blickle serves as an...

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BY: Guest Blogger      06/21/22

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BY: Guest Blogger      06/28/22

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BY: Tierra Easter      06/17/22

$1.8M awarded to middle school out-of-school time programs

The New York Life Foundation and the Afterschool Alliance are pleased to announce the 2022 Aim High grant recipients. In its sixth year, the Aim High grant has provided a total of $7.95 million dollars to help fund afterschool, summer and expanded learning programs as they help middle school...

BY: Dan Gilbert      06/14/22

You're invited: Help amplify youth voices in afterschool!

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BY: Maria Rizo      03/21/22

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BY: Guest Blogger      02/28/22

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Afterschool supports LGBTQ students

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BY: Guest Blogger      06/28/22

Celebrating Juneteenth in afterschool programs

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BY: Tierra Easter      06/17/22

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BY: Leah Silverberg      03/30/22

Tips for afterschool to support trans and gender non-conforming young people

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BY: Shaun Gray      02/14/22

Mentorship "show[ed] me my self-worth... the value that I have as a human."

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BY: Tierra Easter      01/25/22

Afterschool as a teacher pathway

By Sam Piha, founder and co-director of Temescal Associates and The How Kids Learn Foundation, both organizations dedicated to promoting the learning and healthy development of youth. Our national teacher shortage predated COVID-19, however there is growing evidence that suggests that the...

BY: Guest Blogger      01/20/22