Frank Gilmore, a Jersey City native, is the founder of the Educational Gilmore Community Learning Center in Jersey City. He is an incredible human being with an inspiring story. I had the chance to interview him over a zoom call a few weeks ago. We talked about how he turned his life around from being in the streets to becoming a mentor for local youth, we also talked about the issues the city is currently facing and the challenges he is having doing this important work during the current pandemic. Watch the interview or read the full transcript below! Thank you Frank for all that you do for the JC community, we hope to see you running for city council in the future!
What’s your name?
My name is Frank “Educational” Gilmore.
What do you do?
I wear several hats. I do a lot of community activism, I’m a mentor, a life coach, and I also have a community learning center here in Jersey City.
I’m born and raised in Jersey City. Like most inner city kids, who grew up without their parents, I took to the streets and followed behind the wrong people, which ultimately led me to a life of crime and I went to prison for 120 months. During my incarceration, I knew I needed to do something to rehabilitate myself to make sure I could be a productive citizen in society. I took to education, thus the name Educational Gilmore. I credit education with my rehabilitation. Once I came home, I obtained several degrees from community college, subsequently going on to Rutgers University. I just wanted to give back to my community because I feel like I’ve done so much wrong in the community and it was within my due diligence to do something to right my wrongs, to help out my community. I started being a mentor and I started the Feddie Foundation, which is a nonprofit aimed at helping youth via sports, education, and mentorship. From there, I went on to do a lot of community activism and trying to be a voice for the voiceless.
That’s amazing, you’re so inspiring. We all saw you on Ellen, too! Tell us what happened there.
Terrence McDonald did a nice article on me in the Jersey Journal and we were waiting for them to drop it. It had been 45 days and I thought they weren’t going to release the article. To my surprise, one day I’m sitting in my community center and I’m doing something on the computer. My computer and phone kept buzzing and banging and I’m like, “What’s going on?” I ignored it because I was trying to get my task done. It was abnormal for so many alerts to be going on, so I looked and it was the article, printed. By the time I looked at it, it already had 200 shares. Before the night was out, it has around 7000 shares. It was crazy. People at Ellen got wind of the article, got in contact with me, and thanked me for the work I did in the community. They wanted to reward me, so they came and surprised me. It was a surreal feeling. Even talking about it is like, “That happened?” I’m definitely grateful for everything they’ve given me. Shout out to Ellen.
How was meeting her, was she cool?
I talked to Ellen briefly, but her staff and hospitality I received at the show is A+. They gave my wife and me first class accommodations – they flew us out there, we stayed at a hotel, they brought us food, thy showed us around. It was real presidential. Even to this day, they call me to check on the family and see how everything’s going.
That’s great. Well deserved! Congratulations. Where in Jersey City did you grow up?
I bounced around a lot. Mainly the South Side, although we originated on Montgomery St down by the new houses. We’re from Montgomery down by Jersey Ave up to where Montgomery Projects used to be, Mill Creek now. That’s where I was raised, in that area.
How do you feel, from then to now, about the changes? We’ll get to pre-coronavirus times.
It changed drastically, some for good and some for the worst. The change welcomes a new group of people that wasn’t necessarily there and sometimes there’s tension between the communities, but what I do like about the change is that it offers opportunities. It has its pros and cons.
Before all this happened, what was your biggest challenge as an activist and someone in the community trying to help local youth?
My biggest challenge was trying to differentiate – when you’re in the business of helping people, some people tend to try to take advantage – who genuinely needs the help and who’s trying to suck life out of the movement. My biggest challenge was also getting the youth to understand that there is a such thing as tomorrow. They’re so caught up with the now.
So let’s talk about this pandemic. How did that affect your work and how are you changing gears to continue doing what you do, but from home?
This pandemic has essentially changed our lives forever because the nature of the work I do is such a hands-on business. I’m getting calls at 2AM to diffuse a situation with a youth and his mother at home, youth is in the house with a gun to disarm him and get it to the proper authorities. With social distancing, it complicates everything. Sometimes I can’t honor social distancing because it’s life or death situations. I’m pretty much hands on, I’m with the parents. A lot of times, I’m going to hospitals and talking to hospital staff, so it’s extremely hard given the current set of circumstances. It just magnifies the work, it’s already a hard job to begin with. You have to convince people that they’re worth it and that they matter, too.
Let’s talk about the shootings that happened in the last couple of weeks. There were 4 in a row. Tell me your thoughts on everything.
With regard to the shootings and violence, there’s equal blame to go around. We have to look at our parents, namely dads – where are the dads? I have to look at myself because I was a huge contributor to violence and I understand collateral damage. There are children out here and they’re not there to be fathers, so our children are misguided or being guided by the wrong people. Then we have to look at systemic issues; it’s a systemic issue if you have the corridor of MLK in every single community infested with drugs. That’s not the doings of the inhabitants of the community, that’s a systematic thing we have to change in this country. It’s so hard, it’s hurtful to see young ladies and men lose their lives over senseless violence. A lot of times, these kids don’t get it. They don’t get a gun is dangerous.
Where are they getting the guns?
That’s my biggest question! Where are they getting the guns? I come from the streets, I literally come from the streets. I recall being on a block and we were considered a block that had a lot of guns, we had 4 or 5. These kids who are 12, 13 years old have 2 or 3 guns a piece. I don’t understand how a gun is so accessible.
How are they getting it?
That’s what I’ve been trying to understand! That’s the crazy thing. Either someone is giving it to them, dumping them in the community… Even if they do have access to buy them, these kids don’t have the money to obtain the guns. A lot of these kids don’t have money to eat. I’m constantly going around and loading kids up in my van to get something to eat. It’s beyond me where these guns are coming from.
They won’t tell since they don’t want to rat people out.
I’ll tell you one thing – if these kids were lawyers or something, they’re lawyers to the street court. They’re not saying anything.
That must be frustrating for you as someone who wants to help the youth and stop the violence. You want to shake these kids, like “Enough! Where’d you get the guns?”
Information is very sensitive. These kids know and understand that if they release a certain amount of information, they put themselves in jeopardy and subsequently put their family in jeopardy. They’re aware of that, so that’s part of the problem. There’s also a misconception of what snitching actually is. They don’t really understand what snitching is; they just think anyone who tells on someone is a snitch, and that’s not the case. They don’t know origins, the root of the word. They’re misapplying the world.
What’s the solution? In an ideal world.
In an ideal world, it’s the give and take method. If the youth are going to give up the guns, we have to give something to replace those guns. The first order of business is getting them to know and understand that they do matter. The first thing I do with my mentees is try to instill a sense of self-awareness and self-cohesion where they know and understand who they are as an individual. Once you can get someone to understand who he or she is as an individual, they will begin to understand their intellectual capacity and won’t make such idiotic behaviors. This is going to be an uphill battle. The guns didn’t get here overnight, they’re not going to be gone overnight. It’s going to take all hands on deck – government, community members, school teachers, legislators.
It’s all over the country. I founded a non-profit organization 3 years ago and it’s a mentorship program for youth. I was wondering how I could use my platform and connections that I have in the community to help youth, especially inner city kids who don’t have the same opportunities as kids in Downtown. It’s a mentorship program for youth interested in digital media and entrepreneurship. I thought my biggest challenge would be to get mentors and donations, but it was actually getting kids to sign up.
Yeah, it’s getting the kids there. That’s everyone’s challenge. The thing I’ve learned about programs for kids is that sometimes, we need to bring the programs to the kids. Sometimes, you have to code-switch and infiltrate. It’s like taking me to Spain, putting me in a country with all Spanish-speaking people, people telling me in Spanish, “sir, come here. We have food, nourishment, everything to offer you.” They’re not speaking my language so I don’t understand what they’re saying. It’s the same concept with the youth. Sometimes it’s not necessarily the message, it’s who the message is coming from. A lot of times, it’s like, “Oh I’m not going down there, I’m not going with them.” It’s a challenge for everybody, even me knowing a lot of people and knowing these kids’ dads. It’s a struggle to get kids to come to programs. he most beneficial thing for me and my programs is youth promotion. For the most part, most kids who’ve heard about my program heard about it through other kids. The kids in the program advertise them. Every year, we take about 100 kids to Rutgers University and the Hudson County jail, and we do the Feddie Day at the park where it’s upwards of 1000 people over the course of the day. It’s a matter of using the people within the program to get people to come to the program.
That’s good advice. Hopefully, we can get back to it after all this.
We’ll get through this, we’re resilient. We, as humans, tend to overcome everything. Sometimes we complicate things more than they have to be, but I imagine we would get over this.
What are the current needs now for the South side of the city? Do you guys have enough masks?
Fortunately for us, there have been a great group of brothers on the ground giving out masks, gloves, everything. I’m very grateful to see that. Social distancing has gotten way better, but you’re trying to convince a group of people that have really primary focuses – like, a lot of these kids don’t know where their next meal is coming from or they live in a house they don’t necessarily want to be in due to everything going on.
You’re home with 5 kids. How’s that going?
I’ve been working from home lately. This has turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me because I’m very big on education, so I like when I have the time to educate my kids. It’s proven to be okay. The only trouble I’ve run into is trying to make sense of everything. I’ll be in the house all day and sometimes the walls change colors, the walls move, and things like that. I need my mental health breaks here and there. I’ve been finishing up my documentary, writing, creating business plans, tightening up my curriculum for my mentorship program, tightening up on my motivational speeches. It’s been a blessing in disguise for me.
That’s great, I’m glad you’re doing well in this pandemic.
I try to always take the best out of every situation no matter what. I always try to find a positive in a situation because I’m a firm believer that despite what happens, there’s always a positive.
What do you think is a positive that’s going to come out of this pandemic?
There are several positives transpiring right before our eyes. There’s less vehicles on the road, less airplanes in the air, thus creating less pollution and giving us better quality air to breathe. That’s the thing people aren’t looking into. I’ve been reading several articles where animals in certain countries are actually starting to come into areas and show signs that they’re at peace with the earth. I try to tell people on my podcast to work on themselves. This is a time to self-reflect, reassess, reevaluate where you stand as it leads to your position in life. We take the good with the bad, that’s just the way life is.
And we’re safe, we’re home. We’re not risking our lives, we have Netflix, we have food deliveries, we have our health.
Most importantly, do you know how many people work two jobs just to maintain their normal lifestyle and never see their kids? When they get home, their kids are asleep.
As humans, we’re so spoiled. This is just a reality check. And then you have to think, the governor does the press conference every day and he’s talking about people. When people hear those numbers, they don’t realize those are actually people that perished. Those are actually people who are gone. We have to be thankful that we’re still here.
What’s the first thing you’re going to do once this is all over?
The first thing I’m going to do is let everybody else test it out first. Then I’ll get right back to business. Like I said, I’ve been working on a documentary, working on a book, tightening the curriculum up. Nothing’s stopped for me, I’m still doing to the work. The first thing I’m going to do is work on my case load of about 7, 8 mentees. As soon as this quarantine is over, I’m going to see those kids to hug them, shake their hands, let them know I love them, let them know I’m here.
It’s great work that you’re doing. Let’s say people are watching this and want to know what they can do. What can they do for the community or your organization?
I’m one of the opinion that I’m not holier than thou, I never take the position of telling someone what they’re good at. Everyone knows what skills they possess and what they can contribute monetarily. It’s up to you to say, “I’m good at math, I’m going to volunteer my services at an after school program to help kids,” or “I make a certain amount and I don’t understand how people are living paycheck to paycheck, so I’m going to donate this to this cause.” Everyone has something to offer to the world. That individual is the best person to understand their own intellectual capacity, or their god-given gift. Whatever’s in their heart, whether it’s time, money, resources, or information.
Are you ever going to run for local politics?
A lot of people have been pushing me to do it, to run. On the surface, I think we need representation that is not only going to vote on behalf of the community but will also vote in the best interests of the community. I would say there’s around a 70-75% chance I am going to run.
That’s a large chance!
Yeah, it’s a large chance but you also have to take into consideration, a lot of teams go in favored to win by 2 or 3 touchdowns and subsequently, they don’t win. Nothing’s been finalized. By the summertime, I’ll have my official announcement. Whatever happens, I’m not losing my hold on the community and not losing my sense of advocacy. I’m not losing my sense of sense of fighting for others even when they won’t fight for themselves. I’m definitely going to be here, fighting for my community.
That’s exciting. What’s your favorite Jersey City hangout spot?
All my meals are pretty much home-cooked. I’m vegan, so I don’t eat any meats and things like that. I guess my favorite spot to be is in the community, inspiring others to be better, be their best selves. I just want to be out and about because I want to be a breath of fresh air. I know how it feels when you feel like no one cares about you, and then you look up and see, “He overcame from that, then I can do it, too.” I just want to be a breath of fresh air to people.
And you are.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
If anybody wants information, they can find me at edugilmore.com. You can follow my pages on social media – Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook. Educational Gilmore everywhere. I’m just here to work.