We had the good fortune of connecting with James H. Allen and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi James H., every day, we about how much execution matters, but we think ideas matter as well. How did you come up with the idea for your business?
As a life-long educator, I’ve always been concerned with the well-being of all students. I certainly understand that we each come from varying backgrounds, but I believe that each of us should maximize the potential that has been bestowed upon us. As I examined the educational framework that is in place, I observed that there were cases where the opportunities for educational success were not in place. This is not to say that the educational framework is flawed, only that it excluded particular cases that needed addressing. Cases such as those students who may have made poor choices or were products of dysfunctional environments. I wanted to create an educational environment that provided students who made such poor choices and dropped out of school, a second or sometimes third chance to “get it right” this time. Often girls may get pregnant or boys may have had to drop out of school to help out their single mom. In either case, when they’re able to get back on track with their personal lives, they’re usually too old to return to regular public school. Many are competent enough to complete their high school diploma, except that again, they are over the age thresholds. So, I decided to devote my energy in designing a school that met the needs of such students who had (in our words) experienced “personal hardships” and were too old to return to public school. After several years of meeting the educational requirements and shaping the environment, we received our accreditation status and thus became, Knowledge-First Empowerment Academy.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
Knowledge-First is an Academy that specializes in preparing learners to meet today’s educational and employment demands and the systemic challenges of tomorrow. At Knowledge-First, we believe education should not only address the intellectual capacities, but we consider education a matter of attaining proficiencies that lead to lifelong resiliency. What sets us a part is, we do not place limitation on students based on their past performance. We understand that many of us may make mistakes in life, but these mistakes should not prevent us from correcting such mistakes and moving forward. To this end, Knowledge-First was designed. Not simply for those students who would perform well in any educational environment, but for those who may be motivated, encouraged and inspired because of us. We have many success stories. One is from a student who graduated in 2018 at the age of 56. She had been working on her job for 12 years, but the company refused to give her a raise because she did not have her high school diploma. She entered our school, began her coursework and in two years completed the requirements and received her diploma. She then received her well deserved raise. Knowledge-First also received recognition from the Fort Bend Star newspaper, when they found out we helped a resident in a similar situation. Here are a few words from the paper. “Missouri City resident Ottressia Williams believes that stepping into the Knowledge-First Empowerment Center, 2651 Cartwright Road in Missouri City, was the best decision of her life. “I can’t thank God enough for bringing me to this school,” Williams said. Williams, a 48-year-old who has three children and eight grandchildren, stopped going to high school after 10th grade because she was a teen mother in the early 1980s. “They didn’t have the programs then, like they do now, for pregnant teens,” Williams said. Williams got married, started a family and worked in the health care field, but she always wanted to fulfill her dream of earning a high school diploma. Knowledge-First is a fully-accredited school that helps students, regardless of age, an opportunity to achieve their dreams. Some of the students, like Williams, were pregnant teenagers, while others dropped out of school for various reasons or had trouble with the law. Missouri City resident James Allen, a former Houston ISD assistant principal and teacher, started Knowledge-First in 2001, to help teenagers return to the right path, and to assist adults reach their goals and better their lives. He now serves as the school’s principal.” As a non-profit organization, we are excited to fulfill our mission of giving hope to students who believed that they have nowhere to turn to obtain their high school diploma. Without hope, any group of people will act out in destructive ways. But if they have hope for a better future, they will resist the temptations of a fast buck for the longevity that comes with a higher education. My goal has never been to replace or compete with public schools, we simply want to give hope to those whom the system has forgotten or cast to the side. Has it been easy? Unfortunately it has not. But understanding the framework has made is easy for me, you see, I once was a public school administrator. So often we are viewed as “the competition” when all we’ve ever wanted to do was to be there for students who were restricted from attending their campus. In that way, we can all work together to create a more educated workforce. Without a high school diploma, these students are most often destined to a life which leads to dysfunctional behaviors, a life of crime and they become a drain on social services and public assistance. With our accredited services, these students can return to school, obtain their high school diploma and can now enjoy the benefits of a better job or attend college or vocational school. With our program, these students become contributors to society while offering hope for themselves and future generations.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
My most delightful moments and those of my friends are when we are engaged in activities that spur competition and mental activities that stimulate the mind. I’m a simple man that dreams of maximizing the potential of all individuals. I’m a chess player and am most happy when engaging in higher level thinking opportunities. For us, we would enjoy the pleasures of home based activities eating, drinking and while also enjoying tennis, bowling, dominoes or Mancala. When we do go out, we’ll hit the dance floor and will dazzle the audience. My dance name is, “Mr. Pleezy” and my wife is, “Ms. Teezy”. Without a doubt, fun will be had. Our idea of fun is more from the perspective of “activity”.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
If I have earned success on any level, it can directly be traced to my upbringing. Neither my mother or father had a high school diploma, but each of them valued education with a passion. I grew up in a village called Studewood Texas. Where each neighbor was a quasi-parent. Each adult took a personal position that each child would succeed and that each of us were going to be a value to society. My greatest mentor in high school and one who is directly responsible for me attending the University of Houston was my music teacher, Mrs. Mamie Reed Lee. While at the University of Houston, my single greatest influencer was my vocal music teacher, Mr. Stephen Harbachick. In truth, he was a second father! My organizational strength came from the Cardinal Principles of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. Each of these entities played a supreme role in my life. If anyone of these were missing, I would not be who I am!