Youths Feted for Going in Right Direction

Kenneil Cole speaks at the Right Direction Awards ceremony in D.C. on Aug. 10. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
Kenneil Cole speaks at the Right Direction Awards ceremony in D.C. on Aug. 10. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

Kenneil Cole spent much of his childhood in special education and foster care. He has lost his mother and brother, battled post-traumatic stress disorder and has been homeless, hospitalized and incarcerated.

Now the 23-year-old D.C. native and Delaware State University graduate works alongside D.C. Attorney General Karl A. Racine in the same office that prosecuted him as a juvenile.

Cole shared his story at the Office of the Attorney General’s third annual Right Direction awards ceremony on Thursday, Aug. 10.

He left this year’s 31 honorees with a message: keep doing the right thing.

“Failure is not person. Failure is an event — learn from it,” Cole told the honorees.

Cole designed the awards ceremony three years ago, as an intern in the office, to honor at-risk youth who are making a positive impact in the community in hopes that acknowledging their good behavior will keep them going “in the right direction.”

“I have never in my life been formally commended by anyone [for my accomplishments] up until I got my first award at first annual Right Direction Awards,” Cole said. “Now, I’m hosting the third annual Right Direction Awards.”

He said the honorees defined the word “exceptional.”

Each year, the awards are given to young people in the city who have overcome major adversity, have had run-ins with the law and made a turnaround or who may not have never been in any legal trouble and having a positive impact in their communities.

The honorees are nominated through several D.C. government agencies and local non-profit partners that serve young people including D.C. public and charter schools, the D.C. Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, the Court Services & Offender Supervision Agency, Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity D.C. Alumni Chapter, Open City Advocates and the Latino Economic Development Center.

“We started these awards three years ago because we wanted to support and encourage our young people who were fighting through the struggles and coming out on top,” Racine said. “All too often stories are not about them, they are about other kids and young people who are finding themselves in trouble.

Even the room’s most notable guests, including D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, At-Large Council member Robert White, community leader and keynote speaker Tony Lewis Jr., lent their congratulations, along with words of encouragement and applause, to the young people.

Malik “K.O.P. Fatz” Harleston, a spoken-word artist and three-time winner of the famed Amateur Night at the Apollo, dedicated applause to the honorees before taking his own.

Mendelson called the event a demonstration of Racine’s efforts to move his post beyond defending the city’s agencies and prosecuting criminals, but encompassing “all the dimensions of justice” including working with citizens and encouraging young people to succeed.

Marquette Woodberry, 20, received an award and said the recognition felt good.

“I’m honored to get this prestigious award,” Woodberry said. “I want youth to continue to be empowered.”

Woodberry is currently enrolled at the University of the District of Columbia and works with a mentoring program that seeks to empower males in the city to make informed decisions after high school.

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About Tatyana Hopkins – Washington Informer Contributing Writer 113 Articles
Tatyana Hopkins has always wanted to make the world a better place. Growing up she knew she wanted to be a journalist. To her there were too many issues in the world to pick a career that would force her to just tackle one. The recent Howard University graduate is thankful to have a job and enjoys the thrill she gets from chasing the story, meeting new people and adding new bits of obscure information to her knowledge base. Dubbed with the nickname “Fun Fact” by her friends, Tatyana seems to be full of seemingly “random and useless” facts. Meanwhile, the rising rents in D.C. have driven her to wonder about the length of the adverse possession statute of limitations (15 years?). Despite disliking public speaking, she remembers being scolded for talking in class or for holding up strangers in drawn-out conversations. Her need to understand the world and its various inhabitants frequently lands her in conversations on topics often deemed taboo: politics, religion and money. Tatyana avoided sports in high school she because the thought of a crowd watching her play freaked her out, but found herself studying Arabic, traveling to Egypt and eating a pigeon. She uses social media to scope out meaningful and interesting stories and has been calling attention to fake news on the Internet for years.
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