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Close up portrait of author Walter Dean Myers with Dope Sick cover using bold hand drawn typography

Walter Dean Myers’ Second Chance Initiative

Inspired by Walter Dean Myers’ powerful book, Dope Sick, the Second Chance Initiative is an effort to motivate teens to overcome life’s challenge, move beyond mistakes of the past, take advantage of the second chances they are given, and make better choices in the future.

In Dope Sick, Walter Dean Myers breaks new ground and stretches the boundaries of realism to bring forth a tale of second chances, redemption, and the promise of hope. Inspired by these ideas of hope and redemption, Walter Dean Myers and AdLit joined forces to create The Second Chance Initiative.

The initiative is an effort to motivate teens to overcome life’s challenge, move beyond mistakes of the past, take advantage of the second chances they are given, and make better choices in the future.

Here you’ll find lots of material to lead a unit on making good choices: a Dope Sick reading guide and free online access to the first three chapters of the book; extension activities to help get kids thinking and writing about their own lives; audio podcasts and video interviews with Walter Dean Myers, who discusses his own tumultuous childhood, his approach to writing, and his reflections on a recent school visit; and resources on the social/emotional development of teens and guidance for talking to kids about a range of topics including dropping out of school, drugs, and teen pregnancy.


About Dope Sick

Plot Summary

Typographic cover for Dope Sick

Lil J has lived through the layers of pain that are so difficult for inner city youngsters to transcend and has been exposed to an astonishing array of drugs. His path from “brokesick” to “dopesick” leads to a drug deal gone bad and a shot undercover cop.

Lil J suddenly finds himself in an abandoned crack house with a bullet wound to the arm. He would do anything to change the last 24 hours. That possibility becomes real when he stumbles into Kelly, who is set up in front of a TV set with remote control, about to provide Lil J the opportunity to assess and confront his own existence and ultimately, a chance to change the direction of his life.

Book Excerpt

“My arm was hurting bad. Real bad. The bone could have been broken. I couldn’t tell. I just knew it was hurting and swollen. I felt like just taking the gun out and throwing it away and giving up so I could get the mess over with. I opened my mouth so I wouldn’t make so much noise when I breathed. Down the street I saw the patrol car was still at the corner. He had his lights flashing. I didn’t know if he’d seen which way I was running or not. I knew I was too tired to keep running much more.”

Download the first three chapters of Dope Sick.


Walter Dean Myers extras

Reading guide and extension activities

  • Download a free Dope Sick reading guide  from Harper Collins!
  • Myers uses pictures and photographs, particularly old photographs of African-American life, for character ideas and inspiration for his books. Students can use the same technique with this lesson plan from ReadWriteThink; Rummaging for Fiction: Using Found Photographs and Notes to Spark Story Ideas .

  • Get readers thinking about their own past and present by writing letters to themselves. Students can write actual letters, or create an e-mail that will be delivered to them in the future at FutureMe.org .

  • Art and music have the power to change they way we think about life. PBS Independent Lens examines the influential power of hip-hop on our culture in HIP-HOP: Beyond Beats and Rhymes . You can use this documentary to invoke discussion on the points-of-view represented in hip-hop lyrics and why, as well as the cause and effect of sexism, homophobia, and violence within the hip-hop culture.

National African American Read-In

Walter Dean Myers participated in a web seminar as part of NCTE’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of the National African American Read-In , an annual event to make literacy a traditional part of Black History Month activities. 


Walter Dean Myers podcasts

In this AdLit podcast series award-winning author Walter Dean Myers discusses his childhood, his approach to writing, and the representations of minorities in young adult literature.

Walter Dean Myers on Pre-Writing

Walter Dean Myers shares his approach to pre-writing, including developing an interesting, solvable, problem and identifying characters with depth.

Walter Dean Myers on Where the Ideas Come From

Myers discusses the personal experiences he mines for his stories: life as a foster child, growing up in Harlem, a love of basketball, high school truancy, and his service in Vietnam.

Walter Dean Myers on the Writing Process

Myers describes his process for gathering research, distilling information, and working with his editor to create powerful stories that engage young adult readers.

Walter Dean Myers on Magic Realism

Myers describes his process for gathering research, distilling information, and working with his editor to create powerful stories that engage young adult readers.

Walter Dean Myers on Writing and Race

As a teen, Myers found few books with characters who shared his own experiences as a young African-American man in Harlem. He discusses the implicit message this absence sent, as well as his own efforts to feature minority characters.

Walter Dean Myers on a School Visit

Myers reflects on his visit to New Directions High School in Arlington, VA, commenting on the students’ curiosity and good preparation.


Video interview with Walter Dean Myers

In this exclusive interview with AdLit, Walter Dean Myers discusses his writing, the drop-out crisis, ways to engage teens and struggling readers, and reads from his new book Dope Sick.



Talking about Dope Sick with students

Walter Dean Myers really enjoys meeting the kids who read his books — he frequently visits schools and juvenile detention facilities to talk with young readers. In February 2009, Mr. Myers met with students at New Directions High School in Arlington, VA, to discuss Dope Sick and to answer the students’ questions. Watch the video of the conversation below.



Second Chance resources

For Students

For Educators and Parents

Dropout Information

Social and Emotional Support for Teens

School / Family Partnerships