"...In the midst of a family crisis, when he was about to lose his house and hadn't been to work for over a year, he started the Cross Keys Foundation to help students who for years, had been overlooked. Talk about selflessness." - 2011 Cross Keys Alumnus Mpaza Kapembwa
It was the Spring of 2009 and the conditions at were what neighbors called 'disgusting and deplorable'.
At five decades old, the school’s roof leaked, the plumbing was outdated and vagrants camped out near and on school property – hardly safe conditions for faculty and students to thrive.
“The Cross Keys community had been at the bottom of the priority list of capital improvements and it was just very clear that there was a gap in advocacy,” said Kim Gokce. "When the WSBTV report came out, the foundation became a necessity in my mind. When I saw [the report], I just didn't understand it."
Even at a time when he was unemployed and despite not having a child who attends the school, Gokce became that advocate - helping to position Cross Keys as a solid school with bright students.
Cross Keys School serves a high diversity area where many of its students are English Language Learners (ELL students) and live at or below the poverty level. Still, Cross Keys' students are academically among the best in DeKalb Countywho go on to earn scholarships to some of the nation's top schools.
And while Gokce pauses at taking all of the credit for helping the school transform its reputation, he is recognized as the school's and students' biggest cheerleader.
“Kim is one of those people that we just need more of,” said DeKalb County School Board Member Nancy Jester. “I like that when he identifies problems, he comes with solutions and ideas. He helped me understand the challenges and successes at Cross Keys and his ability to connect with the students and tell their story is what makes him one of the school’s most valuable assets.”
Gokce started a social media campaign to tell the story of those students and it yielded more than $25,000 for the seven schools for classroom needs. He brokered one of the school's most significant partnerships with the YMCA with a total value of $150,000 in investments for use of Cross Keys' and Sequoyah Middle School's sports facilities.
Gokce rallied some of the community’s most influential neighbors, including members of the local Rotary and Board of Education to help him fight for the school improvements. And he helped found and leads the Cross Keys Foundation, an organization whose purpose is to support Cross Keys the educational needs of the Cross Keys cluster's diverse population of students.
"Whenever I think about Mr. Kim, I think about [the phrase] "talk is cheap", said one of Cross Keys Alumni Mpaza Kapembwa, now a freshman at Williams College. "A lot of people sit around and complain day in and out about how bad things are but Mr. Kim takes action. In the midst of a family crisis, when he was about to lose his house and hadn't been to work for over a year, he started the Cross Keys Foundation to help students who for years, had been overlooked. Talk about selflessness."
Gokce said, the foundation will award three $1,000 scholarships to Cross Keys students, his main passion for doing what he does.
"These are just great kids. Some of the best in the state in my opinion," Gokce said. "They make you want to do more."
With all that's been accomplished, Gokce said he looks forward to doing more each year including awarding additional scholarships and getting more volunteers and advocates involved with the Foundation.
"As a civic leader, he challenges me to raise my game," Jester said. " And that’s important to me. That’s important for all of us.”
Who will be the next Brookhaven Patch Greatest Person? If you know of a neighbor in Chamblee or Brookhaven that you'd like to see featured as a Patch Greatest Person send an email to the editor.