When Frank Educational Gilmore arrived at SC&I for his first class, he was nearly thirty years old and had recently been released from prison, having served a 10-year sentence for selling illegal drugs. Amazed and thrilled to be a Rutgers undergraduate, his new life wasn’t one he had ever imagined. When his counselor at prison first suggested he should apply to Rutgers, “I thought it was a joke,” Gilmore said. “I didn’t even know black people went to college, and I thought if I went I would fail.”
His first day at SC&I was both a challenge and an achievement, as were many more days after that, but his accomplishments outweighed the difficulties he faced, and Gilmore triumphed; he majored in communication and graduated with a bachelor’s degree from SC&I in 2014.
Today, he is back in Jersey City, his hometown. Married and the father of five children, he is working full-time for the Jersey City Recreation Department, and is the CEO of a cutting-edge learning center he founded in the exact same area he once led a drug operation. Named the Educational Gilmore Community Learning Center, Gilmore founded the center to help the children in his neighborhood and give back to the community. The center provides children K-7 with tutoring, advice, safety and inspiration, advantages he never had while growing up. He is also a national motivational speaker in the area of youth development and youth programming. Recently, a journalist at Jersey Journal took notice of Gilmore, the center, and the many ways the children are benefiting, and it wasn’t long before The Ellen Show did too.
Soon after the Jersey Journal article ran, The Ellen Show saw it. Thinking Gilmore’s story, and that of the center’s work, would be perfect to tell on the December 2019 episode “Ellen’s Greatest Night of Giveaways,” Ellen sent the actor Michael B. Jordan to Jersey City to visit Gilmore at the center. Jordan delivered Ellen’s giveaways for Gilmore -- $50,000 cash plus enough to cover the center’s rent payments for two years, a Mercedes van, a surprise party with colleagues, friends, and former professors, including SC&I’s Assistant Teaching Professor in Communication Brian Householder -- and more. A few weeks later, when Gilmore and his wife were guests on The Ellen Show, Ellen played the video of Jordan’s visit for the audience. At the end of the video, Ellen walked off stage into the rows of guests to where Gilmore was sitting and hugged him.
Gilmore said his current success did not begin when he founded the center, but years before at Rutgers. “The biggest thing Rutgers did was broaden my horizons,” Gilmore said. “As a Communication major, Rutgers afforded me the opportunity to understand how people communicate, which led me to understand how to communicate with different ethnic groups, which I need to do as part of my job and my work at the center. Rutgers also afforded me the opportunity to think outside the box. As a Communication major, we were expected to do independent projects to utilize our intellectual capacity, and these projects really helped me develop personally.”
Describing the advantages of his Rutgers education, Gilmore said, “Education is the key to freedom. Education equals rehabilitation. I am a mentor who leads from an educational perspective. This is why I am named Frank ‘Educational’ Gilmore. My middle initial is E so it’s perfect – I changed my middle name to ‘Educational.’ The mayor of Jersey City and Governor Murphy call me Educational, not Frank. I want to help as many people as possible to understand that they will need a certain amount of education to do anything. At speaking engagements, that’s my message. The substance of my being there to speak is about the importance of education. I didn’t get where I am through luck. It’s strategically done by design. I couldn’t do anything without my education.”
One of the professors Gilmore admired the most was Householder. In Householder’s class, Gilmore said, he studied social learning theory. “I also remember Professor Householder’s message to stay on task, do the work, and be prepared -- it really resonates now. Another ‘Householder saying’ I always think of is, ‘You are here to learn, to do something. Take the initiative to study outside of class time.’” Gilmore said he also uses the sampling methods he learned in Householder’s class to develop the curriculum for the center.
Remembering Gilmore when he first came to Rutgers, Householder said, “Many of my students have spent their whole lives at the top of their high school classes, have not experienced adversity, and don’t know how to handle it. Frank was incredibly resilient. For him, after all he’d been through, academic stress was nothing. But I needed to hold him to the same academic standards I held all the other students to, even though he needed to work harder because he was not coming from the same place of privilege. I am a tough professor and sometimes I needed to be real with Frank and say, ‘This work is not fine, if you keep doing this you might not succeed.’ I encouraged him to approach his studies in a systematic way, and use the library data base, the text books, lecture notes, and to include evidence in his papers. At the surprise celebration at his former high school with Michael B. Jordan for The Ellen Show, he let out a whoop and said to me, “I did it!’ And I said, ‘I know! And I knew the whole time you’d be successful, but you didn’t!’”
Rutgers has also been very supportive of Gilmore since he graduated. “I created a program called ‘Tale of Two States,’ through the center,” Gilmore said, “where I take youth to college and places of incarceration to show them where they could end up based on the path they take and the decisions they make. We go to Rutgers for the college portion. We’ve been on College Avenue and Livingston. Rutgers has always been helpful to my community service.”
Gilmore said so many people ask him why he does so much work at the center when he does not get paid. “I do get paid,” Gilmore said. “When kids say ‘thank you’ to me and the other mentors at the center, that’s my payment. Once you help someone, they feel indebted, so they help others to give back. That’s how you change the world. Through small steps. That’s my work. I don’t get paid, but money can’t buy that kind of sanity.”
Ultimately, Gilmore used the cash gift from The Ellen Show to finish the back office of the center, re-wire the whole building, and purchase desperately-needed computers. He also helped some parents pay some of their bills. Gilmore said, “The Ellen Show had a very positive impact and validated the work I’ve been doing. The message for the youth I work with is ‘This can be you one day’-- and that is always the message I want to give them. Because of The Ellen Show, people call the center all the time now and ask if they can help donate supplies or books, or ask about how they can start their own centers. It’s been overwhelming but great.”
The Ellen Show hasn’t forgotten about him and the center either, Gilmore said. “Since the show, the producer has been in touch with me every week to see if everything is alright. They are really caring. Their hospitality is second to none. They are very family oriented – the show's staff even spoke with my kids and my wife.”
In keeping with Ellen’s generosity, after the shooting at the Jewish deli in Jersey City, Gilmore shared some of Ellen’s cash gift by taking students who were in schools nearest the shooting, the victim’s family, and the Jewish yeshiva on a $10,000 “shopping spree" as Gilmore describes it, to purchase computers and other much-needed items.
Gilmore said the center is a business, and he is constantly trying to create partnerships so the youth he works with succeed in countless ways. Gilmore said in addition to the K-7 curriculum the center offers, they’d also like to create a program for high school students, but they don’t have enough staff and resources to expand the program to the high school right now.
“We live in a fast-paced world, and people need proper nourishment to get from one step to another. Most of the kids from the first mentoring group are now in their twenties and they want to volunteer at the center and be mentors. I like to bring old mentees around new mentees. They know what the younger kids are facing. But the old mentees are still mentees too – they still have trials and tribulations. They still encounter problems – we all do and will, and we need to deal with them in a full-fledged way – by facing them.”
The center has also not been open as much as they need and want it to be, Gilmore explained, because they lack consistent volunteers. “We need to hire people. We charge a fee at the center now – it’s a harsh reality but we need revenue if we are providing a service. We charge six dollars a day. We need volunteers to do data entry, paperwork, there is so much work. We put our heart into doing the right thing but we have to think of our finances. If everyone gives a little then no one has to give a lot. We need to find a balance. I have come to realize I can’t save everybody – I can’t help everyone. I have to come to accept that.”
More information is available on Gilmore's website: educationalgilmore.com
Details about majoring in Communication at the Rutgers School of Communication and Information (SC&I), are available on the website.