Last week, I spent three days in Atlanta with 40 high school male students from six different Duval County high schools. Over the three days, we visited Georgia State University, Morehouse College, Savannah College of Art & Design (Atlanta), Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) & Clark Atlanta University. The trip was enhanced by educational visits to the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic District & Birth Home, World of Coca-Cola, and CNN Studios where students learned about careers in front of and behind the camera. Students also spent time visiting Six Flags Over Georgia. While all of the activities were great, the most meaningful part of the trip for me came when I reached out to one of my former mentees.
Terrell was inducted into the Rainesmen in the spring of 2011. The Rainesmen is the longest serving student organization at William M. Raines High School. The Rainesmen were founded the same month the school opened in January of 1965 and was created to assemble the schools most elite male students and use them as role models for the rest of the student body. Students in the program were also mentored by male faculty and community members. Terrell graduated from Raines in 2012 as the class Valedictorian. He went to college with over $200,000 worth of scholarship offers, including a presidential scholarship offer from South Carolina State University worth $107,000. Ultimately he chose to attend the University of Florida.
A few months ago he reached out to me after seeing me post about some former students I visited in Tallahassee while on another educational trip with students. He told me the next time I was in Atlanta I should reach out to him.
While at a lunch stop inside of the Clark Atlanta University dining hall Terrell spoke to the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project - Duval Chapter. The 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project was founded by Congresswoman Frederica Wilson over 26 years ago as a way to help students with the largest achievement gaps, work to narrow the disparity through early exposure to successful minority men and various career opportunities. I knew Terrell had achieved some remarkable things after he left Raines, but I quickly discovered, as he started to speak to the students that I did not know his full story.
Terrell came from a single parent home. His mom raised him and his siblings on a $12,000 a year salary. During his years at Raines, he posted on his Facebook account that college was not for him. He initially came to the Rainesmen interest meeting because he was trying to get himself involved in after-school activities to avoid spending time in his neighborhood.
“I didn’t want to go home after school. My neighborhood was not where I wanted to be and I knew that I wanted to get away from it.” Terrell credits his teachers and the school’s guidance department at Raines for encouraging him to attend college. Terrell says he didn’t study often and making high marks on test came easy for him. However, he didn’t think he was college material. He eventually realized that the military or college gave young men the best shot at success, and he wanted to leave his neighborhood.
He didn’t believe the military was the best option for him but his mom could not afford to pay the application fees to apply to college. After being signed up for the SAT & the ACT by his guidance counselor he received college application fee waivers. Terrell still wasn’t sure he was going to college; how would he pay for it he wondered? Terrell started to apply anyway. When he started to receive acceptance letters they all included scholarship offers and many schools offered him full scholarships. He was determined to make his life better.
Terrell visited one college his senior year, the University of Florida, and he enrolled there. He did well at UF and has since graduated with his B.S. in Microbiology and an M.S. in Entrepreneurship. He also became a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Incorporated during the fall of 2016.
The mentorship he received as a member of the Rainesmen was the pivotal point in his life that he believed changed his trajectory. I didn’t know that the first time he ever put on a tie was during his induction into Rainesmen his junior year of high school. Before his induction, he never owned a tie or a suit. He initially thought wearing a tie was for “lames”.
“Failure is your first attempt to learn”, he told the 40 young men inside of Clark Atlanta University. What struck me most about his discussion with the students was that he focused on emphasizing having a plan for life after high school and encouraged the students to find out who they were and what they wanted out of life beyond the dreams that their parents and teachers had for them.
What I left with was a reassurance of how important mentors and role models are in the lives of young African American males. School programs like the Rainesmen and national programs like the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project give our young men hope and help them make positive choices in life. Terrell is a perfect example of how important the interaction with an inspirational role model and having hands-on educational experiences can help mold a young boy’s future.
Today, Terrell has transitioned from mentee to mentor. A full circle moment for the boy who didn’t think he was college material.