My father always made false promises. He always said something came up. I have dreams of what it would be like if he was here. I just call them temporary forevers. Everybody goes through something eventually.
— M.H. Jordan, SMP author and 3rd place winner of Global Harmony Through Personal Excellence Essay Competition

SMP Photo Coach and ShootBack founder Lana Wong led authors on a photo shoot to create striking original images to complement their memoirs. 

How To Grow Up Like Me: The Ballou Story Project

"Your Story is Your Strength"

This is the mantra that emerged from a six-month writing project at Ballou High School in Washington, DC, in which eleven dedicated freshmen and six determined seniors told their stories of ambition and struggle in what came to be known as The Ballou Story Project. The freshmen were students in AVID, a college-preparedness program, who gathered voluntarily every week at lunch-time to write and revise short personal stories about their lives. The seniors were some of Ballou’s esteemed student leaders who were crafting their college essays and wanted to share their stories with other aspiring change-makers. Together their poignant, powerful voices come together to tell a collective story of How To Grow Up Like Me, a kind of instruction manual for determination, grit, and daily acts of hope and courage.

This collection of memoirs does not shrink from hard truths. Authors write honestly about violence and loss, illness and pain, anger, defeat, broken promises, and longing. But they also write about love, and faith, and mentorship, and joy. Theirs are stories not of bitterness or blame, but of overcoming, of a daily and determined belief in oneself and in one’s possibility. Readers will leave this collection humbled and moved, and if you recognize yourself in these stories, we hope you will leave inspired. 


Literally one hour after I had cataloged and displayed the book How to Grow up Like Me by The Ballou Story Project in our middle school library, it was seized upon by an 8th grade boy who is a reluctant reader, and to my knowledge, had only checked out one other book while in middle school. He made an instant connection with the honest and powerful stories written inside. This student ran down to show the book to his reading teacher and, according to her, he is absolutely captivated and now can’t wait to come to class to read the stories and hear the voices of these courageous authors. This is a great victory. Thank you for sharing this inspiring collection with our students. This is real. This is life-changing.
— Donna Eisen, Librarian, Hardy Middle School, Washington, DC
I was so inspired by the powerful stories published by your students from Ballou! The narrative is so similar to my students here in Memphis and so many kids from urban school districts around the country. There is a need for a writing project like this in Memphis. Our students just don’t have as many opportunities as they should to express how they feel and to be listened to.
— TFA teacher in Memphis urban school district

"It's a beautiful story," says Rosemyrtha, a fellow Shout Mouse author through our collaboration with Restavek Freedom, about M.S. Holliday's closing essay in How to Grow Up Like Me. 

Rosemyrtha, one of our Restavek Freedom authors in Haiti, talks about reading "Finding a Home", an essay in our collection from Ballou Senior High School students.