Salome Thomas-EL
I Choose To Stay

Interviewed by: Lauretta Pierce
February 6, 2004

Q. Who is Salome Thomas-EL?

A. Salome Thomas-EL is principal of John F. Reynolds Elementary School in Philadelphia and author of the bestseller "I Choose to Stay".

Q. What inspired you to write I CHOOSE TO STAY?

A. While attending the college graduation of one my former students and chess players who grew up in a small house with 14 people, I decided I wanted to write a book. I wanted his teachers, peers and the rest of the world to know that our children can and will be successful with our love and support. I wanted my twenty students who had been murdered my first ten years as a teacher to know that their memories lived on. Also, I wanted to publicly thank my mother and teachers who inspired me to become an educator, mentor and role model.

Q. How did you go about asking Cecil Murphey to write your story?

A. I read Cecil Murphey's book with Ben Carson, Gifted Hands, and wanted him to help me. I thought if Ben Carson is a surgeon and works thousands of hours a week, he had to have had someone great to work with. I emailed Cecil Murphey and was contacted several weeks later by his agent.

Q. Will you describe to the readers Arnold Schwarzenegger's visit to Vaux?

A. Arnold is the Founder and President of the Inner City Games Foundation which runs effective after school programs. He used our school as one of his first east coast sites and decided to visit. Upon his visit, he challenged one of my female students, Denise Pickard, to a chess match. He did not know our students were 8-Time National Chess Champions. Well, Denise showed him why. She beat Arnold and he immediately had his foundation write a check for 20K for our chess program. We have never received a dime from the School District of Philadelphia. Our funding comes from people in the community like your readers and local businesses/churches. In the foreword, Arnold talks about how impressed he was with Denise and her chess game.

Q. Where are you now in terms of being a role model for your students?

A. I am trying my best to be a good role model and father figure for my students. Many of them live in single parent homes and do not have positive male role models in the community or on television. There are some but not enough. I am working with school districts around the country to attract more Black Males to teach our children in schools.

Q. Are you currently working on another book?

A. Yes, I am working on a book the examines how we are motivated to make a difference in the lives of others and how so many people depend on us for strength and love. Many times, we do not know about the difference we make.

Also, I am one of the finalist as a contributor to the new Chicken Soup for the African American Soul book.

Q. Are you currently working with a Chess Club?

A. Yes, I have continued the chess clubs at Reynolds and Vaux. I have sold Walt Disney the movie rights to my book and the story of my chess team. Also, we have started clubs in other schools in Philadelphia and hope to start clubs in cities across the country. I will be touring the country in the fall to visit schools, colleges and churches. The theme will be attracting good teachers and parents to our schools, starting chess programs and sending our kids to college.

Q. What message would you like readers to receive from reading I CHOOSE TO SAY?

A. I want readers to know that teachers and parents make such a tremendous sacrifice for our children. My book is not about one exceptional teacher, it is about the thousands who everyday give so much of themselves. I would hope when your readers hear about my students they will be inspired to become a role model, mentor or reading coach. We have some wonderful children in our communities and they need our love and support. Too many are going to prison instead of college. We need to start sending them to Penn State instead of the State Pen!!