First Lady Michelle Obama presents the 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award to student Brianna Burns and Workshop Houston Co-Director Reginald Hatter ’03.
Reginald Hatter ’03 has come a long way from an arrest at age 11 for auto theft.
He says that arrest was the result of having “nothing to do,” a condition he’s determined to change for Houston youngsters. And it’s that commitment that led to his Workshop Houston after-school program being one of 12 programs nationwide to receive the 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House on Nov. 10.
Tell us a little bit about Workshop Houston. Winning this award and meeting Michelle Obama is not what I’m most proud of. I’m really proud that we started as a bike shop and have grown to so much more. But I’m even more proud of Robert G., who was in sixth grade when I started here. He was illiterate — couldn’t read, had a limited vocabulary and behavior issues that we couldn’t start to address until we realized that he couldn’t read. There were eight kids in his family and none of them — or their mother — had graduated from high school. Robert graduated from high school this year and will start college in January.
From a program standpoint, besides our Scholar Shop, which offers tutoring and academic enrichment, we have a Chopper Shop (welding and metal fabrication), a Beat Shop (music production), and a Style Shop (fashion and graphic design).
What impact has Baylor had on your journey? Baylor is my everything. I grew up in California, which was very liberal. Baylor raised my expectations for myself, being surrounded by so many smart and talented people, including professors who wouldn’t let me skate. I quickly realized that I didn’t know how to write or study. I got F’s on my first four or five papers but I took advantage of the resources that the university offered. Baylor taught me to take initiative and ask questions. It taught me how to be a responsible adult.
You were a political science and criminal justice major at Baylor. How did you end up working in a program like Workshop Houston? While I was at Baylor, I joined the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, which is a service-oriented fraternity for primarily African-American students. I was our volunteer coordinator and went to some very tough schools in Waco. I saw myself in some of those schools and how important having positive role models was. After college, I went to grad school back home in California, driving three hours per day back and forth until I had a heart attack from all the stress of trying to balance school and my old neighborhood. My mother — who has since passed away — told me I needed to take time for myself so I moved back to Houston’s Third Ward, where my father and his family had grown up. Tutoring had always been my passion, and this Workshop Houston program needed someone to start a tutorial program.
I had other job opportunities but the founders convinced me that they were going to build something great here. My experience at Baylor taught me all about hard work and sacrifice so I took a risk and gave up a full-time job to try to make a difference in the lives of young children. I moved into an abandoned building that had no running water or electricity. We ran a extension cord from the bike shop for light and I bathed with Purell. I lived there seven months but it was worth it. We got the tutorial program up and running and I eventually became co-director, responsible for all of our programs.
Where do you expect to be in five years? We’re starting a capital campaign this weekend so we can build a new campus and expand Workshop Houston beyond the Third Ward to the entire city. I want to continue to grow this program and be steadfast in the community.
What makes Workshop Houston unique from other after-school programs? Everyone talks about sending kids to college, but there are many factors that impact that. What makes us unique is that we give young people tools they can use today, things they can do once they leave this building and go home. It’s so important to keep these kids occupied because it’s when they have nothing to do that they get in trouble.
What did you learn while you were in Washington, D.C., to accept this award? That programs in the arts and humanities matter. That’s what makes us and the other 11 programs that won different. There’s a lot of emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) curriculum, but the arts and humanities are just as important. We have jobs for a reason, but we all need to create — dance, literature, music — and we have to get these young people started much earlier appreciating those things.
Reginald Hatter is making a difference. If you know another Baylor alum who fits that description, please drop us a note at [email protected] and introduce us. And please feel free to comment on the work that Reginald is doing below.