Peak Climb Gave Peek Into Life Lesson

State Senator Brian Kelsey recently returned from a trip to Africa. He tells about it in this exclusive to

Persistence Pays Off!
Both in Climbing Kilimanjaro and in Passing Legislation to Offer Opportunity Scholarships to Low-Income Students

By State Senator Brian Kelsey

Earlier this month I embarked on a 5-day hike to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, which, at 19,341 feet, is the tallest mountain in Africa. The lesson it taught me in persistence is one that will prove helpful in continuing the fight for opportunity scholarships for low-income children in Tennessee.

January will mark my ninth year to introduce legislation to offer opportunity scholarships in Tennessee. Opportunity scholarships allow our neediest children to take a portion of the $11,000 a year that we already spend on them to whatever private schools they choose. In Washington D.C. over 90% of students who use the scholarships during Kindergarten through 12th grade end up graduating high school and enrolling in two or four year colleges. The program is a godsend to hundreds of thousands of low-income parents in Wisconsin, Ohio, D.C., Florida, Louisiana, Indiana, and now in Alabama and North Carolina.

Persistence pays off! Over and over during my hike up Kilimanjaro, my guide repeated, “po-le, po-le,” which means “slowly, slowly” in Swahili. He knew that climbing the mountain too fast would lead to altitude sickness and would leave me short of my goal.

The final ascent on day five was six grueling hours of climbing. The last hour before reaching the crater rim of the volcano was the steepest part of the hike, and it was up scree, which is loose dirt. Every step forward results in a half-step slide backward. This is the height of frustration.

Such was the frustration this year as the opportunity scholarship bill stalled in the legislature. The Senate had passed a bill in 2011 to offer scholarships to all low-income children in the four largest counties in the state. The governor offered his own proposal in 2013, but his bill would have benefited only a few hundred children in Memphis. His bill passed the House Education Committee, but then he postponed the bill until next year before it could be taken up for consideration by the Senate. One step forward and a half-step slide backward.

Persistence pays off. Once I finally reached the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the views from above the clouds made all the hard work worthwhile. I hope that I will have a similar experience with opportunity scholarships in 2014. The children of Tennessee are worth every step!

“There, ahead, all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And then he knew that there was where he was going.” – Ernest Hemingway, The Snows of Kilimanjaro.

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