- De'Anthony Thomas, former Oregon standout, develops a partnership with Reynolds High

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Former Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas shares his story with students at Reynolds High School on Thursday, April 3. Thomas grew up in South Central Los Angeles. He was motivated by sports to become a leader and pursue his dreams.

Nearly 100 Reynolds High School students cheered and applauded as former University of Oregon running back De’Anthony Thomas took the stage.

Thomas, who entered the 2014 NFL draft in early January, spoke to students in the Self Enhancement Inc. (SEI) after-school program Thursday, April 3.

Telling students about his early roots in South Central Los Angeles, Thomas said sports motivated him to become a leader and pursue his dreams.

A Pop Warner Football stand out, Thomas played in Snoop Dogg’s Snoop Youth Football League for the Crenshaw Bears and received the nickname “Black Momba.”

He went on to play for Oregon through his junior year.

“You’ve always got to be a leader for yourself, and a role model to your friends,” Thomas said. “You’ve got to have the mindset to work hard at everything, whether it’s in the classroom or on the field. Trust me, one of these days it’s gonna pay off.”

Thomas told students it was a blessing to spend time with them, and that he planned to return for future visits in an ongoing partnership with Reynolds’ Self Enhancement program.

“De’Anthony embodies what SEI is all about,” said Daunte Paschal, the program’s coordinator at Reynolds. “He is genuine, compassionate and focused on helping students so that when they face barriers — a fatherless home, foster care, poverty, gang violence — they have the energy and tools that can fish them out and help them deal with life.”

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Self Enhancement Inc. is an established nonprofit organization that reaches out to at-risk urban youths in the Portland area. The program is new to Reynolds High School this year, and includes about 100 students.

What is it?

New to Reynolds this school year, but an established nonprofit organization in the region, Self Enhancement helps at-risk urban youths in the Portland area reach their potential by supporting them in their academic, economic and social goals.

Through the program, students do homework, talk about life skills, learn about resources and connect with mentors. There also are smaller boys and girls groups and celebratory rallies.

Many participants overcome significant obstacles to reach high school graduation and pursue higher education or occupational training, and they become the first in their families to do so.

A group of four Self Enhancement students gathered to talk about what they learned from Thomas’ presentation and the program itself.

“He taught us that you can’t let where you come from affect where you want to be — you’ve got to strive to be your best,” said Hire Argo, a junior.

Duezahrell Henry, a freshman, said she learned that if she was confident and open to possibilities, she could make anything happen, while Tommy Houston, a senior, and Ramone Payton, a junior, said they took away the importance of staying on top of grades and hanging out with the right people.

One thing leads to another

Paschal and Thomas met just a month ago, when Paschal, who also works as a hairstylist, was cutting Thomas’ hair. The two stumbled upon a conversation about local youths, and Thomas immediately took interest in Paschal’s role at Reynolds.

“This is really a tribute to his compassion,” Paschal said of the visit.

From its early 1980s roots, Self Enhancement Inc. has grown from a one-week summer basketball camp to an agency serving thousands of Portland-area students.

Paschal himself is a Self Enhancement alumni who attended Jefferson High School.

Participants are 97 percent African-American; 85 percent qualify for free or reduced lunch; 73 percent come from single-parent households; 36 percent are gang affected; and 30 percent have a parent or sibling incarcerated.

While the program works with predominantly African-American youths through its contract at Reynolds, it also has opened to students of other nationalities and ethnicities who want to participate.

“We’ve found that while the demographics may change, the issues and barriers to education are the same,” Paschal said.

He noted that many families from North and Northeast Portland that would have been served by the program in those neighborhoods relocated to the Reynolds area. When SEI came to the school this year, Paschal said he felt as though the families embraced the familiar program.

“We want to make a strong presence and let Reynolds know that SEI’s relationship with Reynolds is genuine — that we want to pool resources,” he said.

You can help

The Self Enhancement Inc. program is in need of tutors. To learn more about the application process, send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Things to know

Self Enhancement Inc. operates under the following community standards:

• We greet each other every day with a smile and a handshake to strengthen the relationship between us;

• We honor and respect each other and so we address one another with proper language and speech;

• We value the space of ourselves and others and are careful not to intrude or injure each other;

• We are mindful of what is true and strive to be honest in word and deed;

• We treasure our rich culture and hold the cultures of all people in high regard;

• We strive to reflect our beauty both inwardly, in our understanding and outwardly in our appearance.

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