Will Smith will play the part of AF4C Board Member Salome Thomas-El in the forthcoming Disney film based on his autobiography.
Thomas-El’s life is chronicled in his book I Choose To Stay: A Black Teacher Refuses to Desert the Inner City, and is one of the inspirational stories of our time.
Thomas-El grew up without a father in the home, one of eight kids born to a poor inner-city Philadelphia mom. He struggled with his own poverty, as well as the neighborhood’s negative attitude towards education. He persisted though, and overcame, returning to his home town to teach middle-school students. Now he is the Principal, but still tries to spend time in the classroom, working directly with kids. He constantly drives home the message that hard work, preparation and lofty goals deliver results. Arnold Schwarzenegger was so impressed by Thomas-EL during a visit in 1999 that he “came bahhhk” in 2000. His foundation awarded the school a $20,000 grant.
To parents and educators, he emphasizes involvement in their children’s lives, and the setting of a positive role model. This interaction provides what he terms “the immortality of influence.”
Although he learned the game of chess from an older brother at an early age, he never really did anything with it until he became a teacher, and then decided to pick the game up again as a way to teach his students some of the many life-lessons to be gleaned from the game, including decision-making, problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills. And through it all, he maintains a constant drum-beat of a message:
“Education is the only salvation.”
His success with his kids in the chess arena has been well documented. Eight national championships in the first year alone. But it’s the success helping kids change their lives for the better that most inspires Thomas-El. Many of his kids became motivated to stay in school, graduate and go on to college.
Says Thomas-El of the kid’s success, “They had been inspired and motivated by good teachers to know that if you work hard, there’s nothing you can’t do.” He now works to spread chess to all school children, working with America’s Foundation for Chess. Disney Studios is preparing to film Thomas-El’s life story, based on his autobiography, and starring Will Smith.
|“I Choose to Stay is an intensely moving story of loyalty and courage and a deeply personal tribute to the great potential of our inner-city kids, so frequently dismissed and denigrated by American Society.” – Jonathan Kozol, Best-selling author of Savage Inequalities and Amazing Grace||“This is a powerful story about what an inspirational teacher can do…” – William H. Gray, III, President, United Negro College Fund