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Grit and Hope

A Year with Five Latino Students and the Program That Helped Them Aim for College

Barbara Davenport (Author)


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Grit and Hope tells the story of five inner-city Hispanic students who start their college applications in the midst of the country’s worst recession and of Reality Changers, the program that aims to help them become the first in their families to go college. This year they must keep up their grades in AP courses, write compelling essays for their applications, and find scholarships to fund their dreams. One lives in a garage and struggles to get enough to eat. Two are academic standouts, but are undocumented, ineligible for state and federal financial assistance. One tries to keep his balance as his mother gets a life-threatening diagnosis; another bonds with her sister when their parents are sidelined by substance abuse.

The book also follows Christopher Yanov, the program’s youthful, charismatic founder in a year that’s as critical for Reality Changers’ future as it is for the seniors. Yanov wants to grow Reality Changers into national visibility. He’s doubled the program’s size, and hired new employees, but he hasn’t anticipated that growing means he’ll have to surrender some control, and trust his new staff. It’s the story of a highly successful, yet flawed organization that must change in order to grow.

Told with deep affection and without sentimentality, the students stories show that although poverty and cultural deprivation seriously complicate youths’ efforts to launch into young adulthood, the support of a strong program makes a critical difference.
Author’s Note
Cast of Characters

1. Across the Water
2. Senior Academy
3. Looking for a Home
4. Inventing Reality Changers
5. Dangerous Enough
6. Uphill
7. Doing RC: How It Works
8. Breaking Faith, Breaking Free
9. A Great Small Organization
10. Undocumented
11. Three-Day
12. Essay Crunch
13. Santiago Milagro and the Four-Year Plan
14. Walking on Water
15. Reset
16. The Guy Inside
17. Rocks on Her Legs
18. Stars and Projects and Everyone Else
19. Going the Distance with Eduardo
20. The Guy Outside
21. Getting In
22. The Costs of Their Dreams
23. Reckonings
24. Scholarship Banquet
25. The Evolution of Reality Changers
26. Epilogue

Barbara Davenport has written for the Christian Science Monitor, Stanford Magazine, and alternative weeklies in San Diego, where she lives. She is also the author, as Barbara Rosof, of The Worst Loss. For more about her, please visit
"Grit and Hope provides an invaluable street-level examination of the effects on education of income inequality and citizenship status. I can't recall anything this immediate since Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities."—Arthur Salm, author of Anyway: A Story About Me with 138 Footnotes, 27 Exaggerations, and 1 Plate of Spaghetti

"Grit and Hope shines important light on the ways in which poverty, under-resourced schools, and a cruel and relentless immigration system frame the everyday lives of our young people. Through beautifully written prose and powerful storytelling, Barbara Davenport offers an up-close examination of the policy failures of our time and how young people at the margins confront life’s barriers—not always successfully but with the tenacity required to ultimately triumph. It is a timely and socially important work that should be read widely."—Roberto G. Gonzales, author of Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America  

"Reality Changers is absolutely a model, not just for the city, not just for the state, but for the country.” —Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

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