Camelot Alum Shares Inspiring Story
“Camelot was my turning point,” said 2008 graduate Leonard Parker. Before Parker’s family moved from Florida back to Philadelphia he was facing a potential sentence of 30 years in prison- and he was only 16.
By 2006 he had racked up four felonies for grand theft, armed burglary, discharging a weapon on school grounds, and possession of a firearm. After taking a plea deal, Parker, his mom and four little sisters left Florida and moved back north to Pennsylvania.
Prior to leaving Florida, Parker had been kicked out of two high schools. He was at risk of not graduating on time or at all. When he arrived in Philadelphia he should have been a junior in high school, but his credit hours lagged far behind. After spending a short time at Northeast High School a friend told him about Camelot’s Excel Academy, also in the Northeast section of Philadelphia. He took his mom for a visit and immediately knew it was the place for him to be. “I was drawn to the structure and order of everything,” Ms. Parker explained.
Matt Kass, who served as the Executive Director of Excel at the time Parker was a student, was thrilled with his decision. “The very day Leonard committed himself to the experience at Excel North, he instinctively knew the necessity of learning the importance of contributing to his school and community,” Kass said. “He always seemed to have compassion and kindness towards others but what made him special was his ability to show humility while considering the needs of others often before his own.”
Although his mom was a bit reluctant for her son to leave yet another school halfway through the year she eventually agreed that transitioning to Camelot was the best hope for him to complete his education. “I could come and go out of Northeast High School whenever I wanted,” Leonard Parker said “but at Camelot it doesn’t work like that.”
After settling in Parker quickly benefited from the accountability and expectations that every Camelot school instills in their students. “It was more of a family than just a school, they knew where we lived, they made sure everyone was going straight home after school – it was family oriented, that’s what I like the most about Camelot.”
All Camelot schools work to show students the possibilities after graduation, which includes taking them outside of the city and visiting college campuses. Parker says that these excursions to universities throughout the region completely changed his outlook on the possibilities for his future, and exposed him to a diverse world far outside of his comfort zone.
Less than 10 years after his name appeared in a local newspaper for his role in a shooting, Leonard Parker is now a graduate from Norfolk State University in Virginia and a brother of the Pi Gamma Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc.
In addition to his studies, Parker took an active role in campus life. “If you go to any type of administrative office they know who I am.” At Norfolk State he was a part of student government and served as a student ambassador showing prospective students around campus. Matt Kass is not at all surprised that the once troubled student immediately took a leadership role on campus, “Leonard’s willingness to lead as a model student in Excel Academy’s Eagles club, inevitably lead to his building of citizenship skills that organically helped other students feel that they too, could become contributors to others and can do work that benefits their community. This noble emulation set a foundation for Leonard today as an active citizen in adulthood.”
With a bachelor’s degree in political science, Parker wants to continue to give back to the community that gave him a second chance. He was recently hired as a case manager for an organization in Washington DC that works to prepare residents for career opportunities.
Ultimately, Parker sees himself running an alternative education school like Camelot someday.