For the past two summers, 11-year-old John V. Boyd has run his own plant business. He grows spider, purple passion and aloe plants, then sets up a table outside his home in Southeast Washington and sells them to passersby. He also sells cold bottled water on the side.
In part because of his industriousness, John has been selected to participate in the People to People Student Ambassador Program, a leadership program started by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956.
For 20 days in July, John and other youths, from various countries, will gather in England and Scotland. They will visit the British Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Stonehenge and Oxford University, among other places. A visit to movie sites from the Harry Potter series is also planned, along with a ride on the London Eye, the world's largest Ferris wheel.
Tuition and travel expenses come to $5,249, which is due May 2. That means John will have to sell an awful lot of plants and bottled water to make the trip. He's entered a People to People essay contest, which will pay $1,000 to the winner. "I feel this is a lifetime opportunity to go places I may never be able to go again," he wrote.
His mother, Marie Ellis, has been sending out letters, and John's résumé, to everybody she can recall ever meeting, asking for help.
"If he can work this hard to put himself in a position to make such a trip possible, I can work even harder to make sure he goes," she said.
Ellis, a single mother, works as a counselor with the Columbia Heights/Shaw Family Support Collaborative. Her job is to help reunite families that have been torn apart by drugs, crime and other misfortunes. When one of her friends was about to have a child taken from her and placed in a foster home, Ellis adopted the child herself.
Whenever the collaborative puts on a neighborhood event -- from a health fair to a back-to-school backpack giveaway -- she makes sure her two boys are there to help out.
"I stay on their case," Ellis said. "I yell. I scream. Whatever it takes to make sure they hear me: 'Do not bring home any grade lower than a C, and no more than one of those.' "
Her adopted son, Mychal (pronounced like "my child"), is 10 and, like John, an honor student at C.W. Harris Elementary School in Southeast.
John's résumé speaks for itself. His activities and service projects include collecting food for Thanksgiving baskets and distributing them to the needy; picking vegetables at various farms and taking them to food banks for distribution; donating "all of my good used toys, clothing and books to help others."
As a fifth-grader at C.W. Harris, he has already earned three ribbons -- for citizenship, attendance and wearing his uniform correctly everyday. He's won awards in his school's Geography Bee, Black History Bee and Science Fair.
Last year, he participated in . Mayor Anthony A. Williams's multicultural teen festival and won top prize in the festival's academic contest, even though he was only 10 at the time.
Success has not come without a price, however. Some of John's classmates seem to resent him for doing well in school.
"Most of the boys over there are tough and bulky, and some of them try to fight me because I carry books," John said. "I'm normally not a fighter; actually, I'm one of the kids who's not very good at it."
But he keeps carrying those books.
"I do have to give him pep talks sometimes," Ellis said. "I tell him that anything he gets in his head they cannot take from him. And one day, when they're sitting around with their hands out, he's the one who's going to have to help them. And they'll be thinking about all the times they used to pick on him."
I hope John won't have to wait that long to see how a good education pays off. May he get to Great Britain this summer and enjoy a well-earned respite.