Khalil Bridges didn’t expect anyone to help him financially when he graduated from a troubled Baltimore high school a few weeks ago. He immediately started looking for a job that would give him more hours than his unpredictable shifts at McDonald’s and, he hoped, enough flexibility that he could enroll in community college.
But then assistance came from an unexpected place: men and women who have never met the 18-year-old but want to see him succeed.
In the days since Bridges was featured in a Washington Post article that detailed his struggles to graduate from one of Baltimore’s most troubled high schools — a place where three young men were lost to violence this school year — dozens of offers to help have poured in from strangers, some who know Khalil’s community well and others who live far removed from it.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Bridges said of the outpouring. “I appreciate it a lot. It just shows me there are people out here that really care about the youth of Baltimore city.”
One person wrote with a potential job offer.
Others wanted to help him go to community college, even if it meant just buying him a few books.
One woman wanted to send flowers to his mother.
The messages, which arrived in emails and texts, were sent directly to The Post and to the staff members of his high school, Renaissance Academy, who were featured in the article: Principal Nikkia Rowe, mentor Antwon Cooper and social worker Hallie Atwater, who works at the school through a University of Maryland School of Social Work initiative called Promise Heights.
“I have never done this before but I feel that I would like to or more to the point, must help this young man in some way,” read an email from one woman.
“Don’t have tons of money but I would love to put some towards Bridges’ continued education and development,” wrote another woman.
“I’m born and raised in Columbia MD and it pisses me off that kids 15mins away have to live in a war zone,” wrote one man.
On a GoFundMe page for Bridges set up by Atwater in response to the outpouring, the donations range from $10 to $250 to one anonymous gift of $10,000.
“Soar Khalil, soar!” one contributor wrote.
“I don’t know you, but I wish you the best. Don’t let any obstacles get in your way,” wrote another.
One woman who pledged $500 wrote: “I believe in you. You can make a difference in this world. And once you complete your education and make your way in the world, remember to give back.”
As of Wednesday night, more than $26,000 of the $30,000 goal had been raised, almost enough to cover living expenses and tuition for two years at Baltimore City Community College, Atwater said.
“Every little bit helps when you start with nothing,” Atwater said. “Any cushion or any support that we can give him to make the transition to the next phase of his life will definitely be helpful.”
In the article, Bridges told of living in a house by himself for three weeks without electricity or gas after his mother, who has a chronic illness that weakens her muscles, was sent to a hospital, then a nursing home. He credits his school with helping him in ways that go beyond education. Just a year ago, he was a teenager who saw drug dealing as the only way to earn money no one else was giving him. Now, he aims to get a degree and work as an athletic trainer or physical therapist.
Atwater said when the offers of assistance first started coming in, she asked Bridges to come to the school so they could read the emails together. She also used FaceTime to contact him when she saw the $10,000 donation. Bridges, who has a quiet demeanor, smiled wide both times, she said.
“Hearing from people who don’t know him that view him in such a positive light and recognize how hard he worked was very special to him,” Atwater said. “He’s really overwhelmed that so many people would care, and choose to give to him and believe in him enough to do that.”
Atwater said she has also heard from officials at a few four-year colleges who have expressed interest in discussing opportunities for Bridges. If a concrete offer with financial aid comes through, she said, she may adjust the goal on the GoFundMe page to meet his new needs.
Next week, the teenager also plans to take advantage of another opportunity. He has a job interview, one for a position that aims at helping create young leaders and offers a flexible schedule that would allow him to attend a local college.
“I can’t give up,” Bridges said. “I’m going to show people nothing but greatness because of the fact that they invested in me.”
But even as he moves forward, it is not without looking back. He said he worries about other students at the school and his fellow graduates “all the time.” A week after a graduation ceremony that honored his three lost classmates, a 13-year-old who had attended the middle school that shares a building with Renaissance Academy was shot and killed.
“I just hope people see I’m not the only child that’s like this,” Bridges said. “There are more children that could use the help I received and actually take the opportunity to change.”