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Characters Unite Award Winners

Kyshun Webster

COX COMMUNICATIONS
NEW ORLEANS, LA
FOUNDER, OPERATION REACH

Operation Reach is an organization in the Lower Ninth Ward that engages, empowers and inspires children, youth and families through innovative, community-based learning opportunities. Kyshun Webster founded the organization as a college student; however, he had been working tirelessly on educational advancement of youth for many years.

As a young boy, Kyshun was retained in the first grade for not being able to read at grade level. After experiencing the humiliation of being retained, Kyshun challenged himself to earn high grades so that he would never endure this experience again. By the fourth grade, Kyshun had kept his promise and maintained honor roll status. At the encouragement of his teacher, he then began tutoring younger students in his parents’ garage in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans at the age of eleven. The program continued for many years and grew to thirty youth from the community using all parts of his parents’ home. Kyshun had to then recruit other students to assist his tutoring efforts. This was the early beginning of Kyshun becoming engaged in helping others so that they would not experience failure in school.

While working with younger children in his community, a community mentor discovered the works of Kyshun and recommended him for a Youth Leadership Development Camp. This camp taught Kyshun how young people had the power to transform their communities and to create social change. Icons from the Civil Rights Movement frequented this camp to impart the skills, strategies and tactics that empowered individuals to rise up and be a voice for change. Kyshun attended these camps faithfully during the summer, winter and spring sessions and absorbed the wisdom of these elders. It became a powerful source of inspiration and support for thinking about ways young people could effect change. This program gave him a sense of empowerment and equipped him with the tools to further instigate change in his community.

These combined experiences inspired a life of service to community and helping children avoid failing in school, so much so that Kyshun pursued college to become a teacher. During his junior year in college he decided to re-establish his program that he initially launched in his parents’ garage, but this time in a public housing project where he and his family were once residents. His inspiration to go back to this community stemmed from wanting to help others get through school successfully. A servant leader, Kyshun successfully recruited and engaged his collegiate peers to assist. Peers and faculty advisors supported his precocious vision to establish an organization that would actively engage others in the process of reaching children in a way that would empower and inspire them towards excellence and avoid the risk of them failing in school. Kyshun then formalized the founding of Operation REACH, Inc., in 1999.

Kyshun has since built Operation Reach into a national organization, which has programs that reach 12,000 children and youth each year across the south. The organizations’ many programs include the Gulfsouth Youth Action Corps to play a leadership role in the restoration of youth programs and services after the hurricane, as well as “cradle-to-career” pipeline of programs designed to promote educational success among youth regardless of socioeconomic background.