By Sarah Thompson
Tyshawn “FREEK” Robinson’s life hasn’t always easy. From his father being killed by a police officer when Robinson was just one month old to being arrested later in his young adulthood, his environment didn’t always provide opportunities for him to thrive. But now he’s working to flip the script about what it means to grow up in the inner city through his firearms training business Go Platinum Services in Hartford, Connecticut.
“Where I grew up, there were a lot of men going to jail or ending up dead and I didn’t want to be either,” shared Robinson. “There’s a negative perception of Black men with guns and there’s just not enough of us with gun ownership. Most of our parents didn’t want guns in the house unless you were a police office or something of the sort. So, with the lack of knowledge and the environment with no opportunities, certain people want what other people have and then you put a firearm in their hands and bad things happen. I didn’t want that stigma to continue. Every time someone takes my class, it prevents another person from going to jail from carrying a firearm illegally.”
In addition to his jobs as a bounty hunter and working with youth, Robinson took a gamble and launched his new business in August 2020, right in his hometown of Hartford.
“I chose to specifically keep it in Hartford because I believe that people coming from the inner city need this as much as anybody coming from the suburbs or another city,” he said. He hopes to soon work full-time for himself, which he says won’t be long from now.
Go Platinum Services offers firearms instruction every weekend, which include pistol permit classes and refresher classes. Participants receive specialized instruction and the ability to purchase a firearm upon completion of his courses. Robinson is also available during the week to accommodate participants’ schedules.
"You can come from the inner city and certain environments and you can make it out
“The class isn’t just about the guns. It’s about comfort and confidence when you’re dealing with firearms. I try to bring that comfort level out of people of all walks of life,” shared Robinson. “Whether you’re top in the military or you’re a novice, I want you to be confident and comfortable and most importantly, understand the dangers but enjoy what comes with the knowledge.”
Robinson says that some people take his classes—which are $120—for protection and safety, and some for sport. Some people have no idea about firearms and don’t want to touch them because they think something is going to go wrong.
“In reality that’s not the case,” explained Robinson. “Once you understand the firearm, it takes away all of the jitters and the misunderstanding or lack of information and avoids mistakes from happening.”
In other words, Robinson is helping shift fear to confidence. Go Platinum Services also helps people get their criminal records cleaned.
He also believes it’s important to have the option to be taught by somebody who looks like you.
“Coming from environments that I come from, when you have people that have the top-ranked jobs or they don’t look like us, I thought it was important that people have an option. And I choose to do it my way,” he shared. “I didn’t jump in to do it anyone else’s way. I wasn’t going to pretend who I was. I am who I am. I get it all the time – I’m covered in tattoos, I wear jewelry, but when I go into class, I want people to understand that this is a passion for me. I am all in. We’re going to laugh, we’re going to joke, but more importantly, you’re going to get that education. Leaving with a smile and a gun is not a bad deal—so it works out!”
Robinson’s passion runs deep and he’s bringing positivity to his community.
“I want to keep inspiring people. Kids want to do better things in life and want it now so some will choose the streets,” he explained. “My idea is that you can get all of those things that you dream of and still be 100% legit. You can come from the inner city and certain environments and you can make it out and become something. And you can do it your way. You don’t have to let your circumstance define you. I had a record. I got my record clean. It’s how bad you want it. I’ve been stabbed 11 times because of that ‘life’—so I understand it all and I want to change the stigma. I want to help as many people as I can to change. There is a way, and I can help you – as long as you’re willing to do the work.”
Go Platinum Services is located at 808 Windsor Street in Hartford. Learn more about Go Platinum Services on Instagram and Facebook or call or text 860.897.5195 to inquire about classes.
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By Lajeune Hollis
MGI Fire-Arms—which stands for “Mr. Gibson Instructs”—is the result of two things Ricardo Gibson loves: firearms and teaching.
For eight years, Gibson has been teaching children in Waterbury—his hometown—in grades Pre-K through eight. And, he even coaches intramural sports and women’s flag football in his community. The first in his family to graduate college, his aspirations continue to soar as he hopes to become a Waterbury school principal.
Six years ago, although he was “anti-gun” growing up, Gibson took a seat in his first pistol training class. He enjoyed it so much that he pursued his Connecticut gun license and soon after, began posting instructional videos on social media. People took notice and the likes, comments and shares began to increase, as did the inquiries for when he was going to start his own pistol instruction business.
Gibson heeded his fans’ advice and, with just five students in his first class in June 2020, he launched MGI Fire-Arms during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. His online class attendee numbers quickly grew beyond 200 from his popularity on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, and through word of mouth and his loyalty card referral program.
My love for teaching has led me to become a Licensed NRA Instructor,” shared Gibson. “Being an elementary school teacher has led to me keeping the same principles when teaching my pistol course—patience, differentiation and high expectations.”
Gibson’s courses include Pistol Permit Certification, CT Basic Permit Certification, and Shooting Refinement for advanced learners. He is also in the process of offering a Massachusetts License to Carry Certification Course. One of his most popular courses is the Utah Pistol Permit Course which covers more than 30 states. He partners with venues like The Gun Store in Connecticut to host it and everything is provided in the classroom, including fingerprints, passport photos, documentation and envelopes to mail everything off. The cost for this course is $130 and is limited to the first 10 people who sign up.
“One of my primary goals is for my students to leave the class feeling comfortable and learning something new."
All of Gibson’s instructional sessions generally last 30 minutes and he meets course participants at their chosen gun range, provides ammunitions, targets and a variety of guns to try. Following classes, if a student wants to get their CT gun license they may need to exercise some added patience. Normally it takes up to eight weeks but due to the pandemic in can take up to six months.
“One of my primary goals is for my students to leave the class feeling comfortable and learning something new,” he shared. “I want them to know that they can always use me as a resource and I’m available by phone or text.”
One of the many reasons Gibson’s classes are successful is because of his contagious enthusiasm and he recognizes that people learn differently, so he caters to each person accordingly. He has found that some people learn by seeing (visual), some by hearing (aural), some by touching (physical), some by logics (mathematical), some by Interpersonal means (social) and some by Intrapersonal means (solitary). His teaching style adapts to all learning styles.
Gibson’s students rave about his classes, sharing that their “only regret is that [they] didn’t take the class sooner,” that they “loved the class—[it’s] informative yet personal, and to the point,” and encourage that “If you’re looking for an instructor to make you feel at home, relate with you and make sure you have a great time, Ricardo is your guy!”
Most of the people who take Gibson’s courses have never even seen a firearm.
One student shared, “I brought someone with me who was unknowingly fearful and by the end of our session Ricardo educated her and got her over her fear.”
Gibson says that he is blessed but recognizes that timing is everything. During the last year, learning how to use a gun safely was high on many people’s list after witnessing disturbing national news stories like George Floyd’s death.
MGI Fire-Arms is proof that 2020 wasn’t all bad after all.
“The only way to do great work is to love what you,” shares Gibson. According to his words of wisdom, he certainly is doing great work, in many ways.
Find MGI Fire-Arms on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube or on their website. Class participants must be 18 years or older and 21 years or older to obtain a Connecticut conceal permit license.
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Photos courtesy of iTeachCT
By Alicia Brown
Dear parents: is your child struggling with learning? Has the pandemic affected their studies? Have things been stressful for you? Meet Ms. Shardae of iTeachCT--a mother, teacher, leader and advocate for education and student learning who can help keep your student on the right track.
“I’ve learned parents need two things—either helping get their child on a schedule or understanding what their child is learning,” she shared.
There are two reasons that Ms. Shardae has made education her life mission, and one is Ms. Ford, a teacher who did not give up on her.
“Ms. Ford is the one who made time to help me master concepts,” she shared. This is the same guidance that Ms. Shardae wants to provide to all students in her program.
The second reason? She wanted to prove her doctors wrong.
When Ms. Shardae was a young child, her adoptive mother was told that her new daughter may not do well in school and that she might struggle. But she rose to the top of the class and says it’s all because of her mother’s encouragement and dedication to ensuring Ms. Shardae completed all her schoolwork.
"I’ve learned parents need two things—either helping get their child on a schedule or understanding what their child is learning."
“We don't want a student to feel like they are failing just because of their inability to grasp a concept that just needs to be taught differently,” she explained.
ITeachCT, which stands for “Integral, Embracing, Teaching Adolescents Through Challenging Horizons”, exists to help parents and students tackle challenges, and what’s more challenging than a school shutdown in the middle of a pandemic? Ms. Shardae’s Parent Power Hour helps parents gain insight around two concepts their child is learning and provides guidance where it is needed most, including helping parents gain confidence in teaching lessons that they may not have learned in school and breaking down concepts in helpful ways.
She tutors and assists with English, science and other studies for students in kindergarten through eighth grade and offers mathematics support for students in grades kindergarten through twelfth grade.
Ms. Shardae’s business launched in March 2019 but her passion for helping students began after college when she worked in education. Recently, iTeachCT expanded beyond Connecticut for tutoring services, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Accredited by the Better Business Bureau, she has an A rating—a direct reflection of her care for her students. From helping through the struggles of remote learning to navigating daily life and even providing scholarships, her dedication is evident in all she does.
Ms. Shardae loves giving back to her community and in 2020 she provided a $500 scholarship to a student, funded by donations and class purchases. Her scholarship is open to a first-generation college student or a college student from a single-parent home.
While the pandemic won’t last forever, virtual teaching will still remain popular for many years to come, and iTeachCT will be there to help students become the best they can be!
To sponsor a student, donate to the iTeachCT scholarship or to learn about available services and classes, visit iteachct.org or find iTeachCT on Facebook.
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By Elijah Manning
As our nation continues to grapple with sins of the past, and finds ways to change our future for the better, there is one specific area that needs attention on a national level, but can start locally. I’m not talking policing, or equal housing, or so many other issues that have rightfully given us pause. To me, it starts with one important piece, and this is most important for children in the Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) communities. It starts with inclusive truth in education.
When Black Lives Matter again took center stage, inequities, and inequalities that have been rampant in these communities were highlighted. The statement that has resonated the most, and became commonplace with many people was, “I never learned about that.” This statement came from many learned people, who began to realize they were missing very important pieces of their education. The missing pieces usually involved the learning about BIPOC, woman, and many other “minority” groups.
Why are so many people missing something that should be taught regularly? Perhaps there is no singular, simplistic answer, but can be summed up in the words of spoken word poet, Regie Gibson, speaking on America’s relationship with its past. He said, “I think our problem as Americans is that we actually hate history, so we can’t really connect the dots. What we love is nostalgia. We love to remember things exactly the way they didn’t happen. History itself is often an indictment. And people? We hate to be indicted.”
In communities around our country and even the world, we started to realize how much we missed. How much we relied on our friends in said “minority” groups to give the education completion that many never sought. For example, Christopher Columbus. We are taught the glorified version of who he was, but history leaves out the terrible things he did. That leaves us incomplete. It leaves us with half truths, and when we acquire new information from new sources, and new perspectives, we are left wondering why we were not given the full story.
It breeds within us a discontentment that may never be reversed, due to our mistrust of the system that was set up to teach us, but hid the truth.
This is the tip of the iceberg. We are awake to Juneteenth, and the story of what actually happened in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Anger over Aunt Jemima, the stereotype on the pancake and syrup label for years, no longer there. Some searched the history of minstrel shows and “Mammy” and learned about Nancy Green. If they had been taught who she was they would have realized why the label should have been changed years ago.
Instead some fought about it and fought about Columbus statues, or Confederate general statues and flags, and many other things. This goes back to one crucial piece of information — we are not taught all the many perspectives of American history.
"People have decided to say 'I don’t see color,' and while this may have the best intentions, it does more harm. If you don’t see my color then you don’t see all of me. You are missing parts of what make me unique and what makes me, me. You are missing an opportunity to learn from me and allow my life to help yours and denying me the opportunity in reverse."
We have opportunities to grow as a nation by not limiting what we teach. We grow individually, but not always collectively. By not learning about all the accomplishments of the variety of people who have contributed positively to this country, we do a disservice to the work they did, and it limits our understandings of one another.
If we expanded our curricula to be more inclusive and teach all “minority” achievements, it may help to cross our divides as people. And limit fear of each other. We are more than us vs. them. We are a collection of differences, our experiences. A collection of our ancestors, and our communities. As we all have differences, learning those differences allows us to realize what makes us different makes us great.
People have decided to say “I don’t see color,” and while this may have the best intentions, it does more harm. If you don’t see my color then you don’t see all of me. You are missing parts of what make me unique and what makes me, me. You are missing an opportunity to learn from me and allow my life to help yours and denying me the opportunity in reverse.
This is no different than missing parts of our history. If you aren’t taught the reason for the Civil War was majority slavery, or that George Washington had teeth in his mouth that used to be the teeth of slaves. Or you’ve never read “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”, by Frederick Douglass, or haven’t learned the important work of Investigative Journalist Ida B. Wells. And learning about space and NASA is incomplete if Valerie Johnson isn’t discussed.
We need to teach the advancements of minorities, as well as the setbacks faced. The importance of landmark Supreme Court Decisions, such as Brown v. Board of Education, Mendez v. Westminster, and the legislation that was passed as a result. Teach the Trail of Tears, teach about Japanese Internment Camps, The Fugitive Slave Act, The Tuskegee Experiment, and so many others.
I could fill an overwhelming number of pages giving full accounts of all the African Americans, Latinx, women, Natives, and other minorities that have made significant contributions to the America we all know and love. Because we love it, it is our responsibility to do justice to the people who have come before and have made advancements, or positive changes. That have invented and solved, explored and written, ran from slavery, or ran for office, have challenged our thinking, and taught us new ways to think. Have fought for freedom, or helped save a life.
I believe so much in this that I, along with others in the state, have founded a Facebook group that is dedicated to making these changes come about in our school systems. It is called the “CT Coalition for Educational Justice and a Culturally Responsive Curriculum.” We have members from all over the state as well as people from outside of our state looking to help us and themselves. We organize our information so it is readily available, we have resources dedicated to teaching, and training, and learning.
We have a “Roll Call” where you can say what school system you are part of, and we have people willing to help consolidate resources to best share. We are looking to add more things community based, and communications based within the near future. If you would like to be a part, or learn more, find us on Facebook.
It is up to us, all of us, too change things as they are currently, and make a better way forward for all. History, in particular, isn’t about teaching only positives. It is equally important to teach negatives. This gives us a complete picture. With that complete picture, we are granted the opportunity to make a decision how we feel about certain individuals, certain time periods, certain laws, certain cultures, and more.
I will sum up with two important quotes from Frederick Douglass. The first is about slaves: “Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave.” The second quote pertains to teaching children: “It is easier to build strong children, than to repair broken men.” If we teach our children a more inclusive education today, they will lead all of us to a better tomorrow.
Click here to find Black-owned bookstores in Connecticut.
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