When my VOX ATL colleagues and I attended the 2020 No Place For Hate Summit in January, I happened to meet a high school senior named Isaiah Thompson. He mentioned that he helped create an organization called UpLIFT, which is a club that helps students become leaders with various activities at Grayson High School.
I was instantly intrigued by the title of this club and asked Thompson if I could possibly interview him about this organization. His answers were not only surprising but will be uplifting to young people all across the world.
VOX ATL: I’ve realized that this organization is spelled “UpLIFT.” Is there a specific reason that the “LIFT” is capitalized?
Thompson: Yes, the very purpose of this club is to cultivate those around us and ourselves. This club represented firsts for many of us, so the responsibility of each different position symbolized an opportunity for us to grow. This framework is timeless, so as every class graduates, students can come behind them and mold themselves to fit these roles. Therefore, leadership and excellence will continue beyond my time at Grayson High School, lifting so many generations.
VOX ATL: What are the origins of this organization? What are the things that you saw in your high school that led to UpLIFT being created?
Thompson: At Grayson High School and many schools in Gwinnett County, there are three main clubs: National Honors Society, Beta Club, and Principal’s Leadership Club. These clubs grant opportunities to their respective students in terms of guest speakers and workshops. However, this wealth of opportunity is extremely limited as each group consists of the same students. The requirements for acceptance into these clubs are based on academics solely, rightfully so. But this does not embody every student. Leadership is not solely synonymous with academic achievement. It intertwines with every talent. Therefore, UpLIFT’s existence spurred from an unacknowledged perspective by schools that leadership is universal and to open opportunities for all students to cultivate themselves.
VOX ATL: What is the core function of UpLIFT? What are some things that the organization has done that stands out to you or that you remember?
Thompson: The organization functions to cultivate skills and leadership opportunities within African Americans and all students. The organization consists of different pillars that give students the opportunity to plan projects such as a Culture Show, Black History Production, seminars, and community involvement with the organization Gwinnett STOPP.
VOX ATL: What impact did the creation of UpLIFT have on your school? What were the effects of this organization?
Thompson: Out of our Fine Arts pillar, one student brought up the idea of a Black History show. This would be the first in Grayson High School’s history, and through auditions and long weeks, we were able to create an amazing show that will now be an annual event for Grayson High School. We were also able to establish a Culture Show where the different ethnicities of Grayson High School were able to exhibit themselves in ways unimaginable. Both events will continue next year at larger scales. The impact that we have had on this school in these events alone signifies the grand impact this club will have in the years to come.
VOX ATL: Who are the people that helped you create this organization? Any friends, teachers, classmates?
Thompson: I began this club through a former administrator at Grayson, Mrs. Douglas. She was offered a new position right at the beginning of the school year, but she embodied the literal glue for our club that would allow us to continue to the end of this year. First taking the opportunity to her, we then recruited students to assist, mostly my friends. We brought in about 20 students including myself to plan and push the club this year.
VOX ATL: Ever since school has been moved primarily online because of the coronavirus, what has UpLIFT been doing? Have the functions of the organization stopped completely?
Thompson: The coronavirus has definitely hindered our plans for the last months of the school year; however, it has forced us to plan earlier for next year. We are in the process of establishing a new curriculum, new leadership, and sponsorship for next year. Essentially, we are doing everything that we can to make sure the legacy of UpLIFT continues at an even higher level next year.
VOX ATL: Is there anything that I haven’t asked that you would like to mention?
Thompson: I would simply say that this club transcends its physical boundaries of a high school club. It represents the truth that anybody, despite age or race, can make a difference in their community and ultimately the country. The club will continue to teach future generations, and those students will take the skills acquired here and apply them in their own way. The musicians, doctors, lawyers, and engineers that will come out of this club are astronomical, and the change they will create will be unprecedented. I hope that this club inspires high schoolers, college students, and adults to never fear change. The results of pursuing change never disappoint.
I had a wonderful time reading about the story of UpLIFT and the legacy that it brought to Grayson High School. The achievements, inclusion, and diversity that was brought to Grayson High from this club alone are amazing. I’m absolutely sure that UpLIFT will only grow further and further in the future. While reading these answers, I hope that you learned what I did.
To all the young people out there who may not feel like you have as many opportunities as the “smarter” or “better” people, just know that there are people who know how you feel. They want to help you, and they want to see you fulfill your massive potential. And if you can’t find anyone willing to help you, be the person who wants to help others. No matter what, you CAN make a difference in the world. You just have to be willing to try!