by Morgan Smith
Junior J.J. Douglas has made a home at Kennedy Charter School. The 6-foot-6-inch basketball player seems to have it all together as a leading scorer at the school and a member of the A/B Honor Roll.
But life hasn’t always been a breeze for J.J. This past year he attended West Mecklenburg High, where he was more frequently in trouble than in class. School wasn’t important, and growing up in a single-parent household with his mom and twin brother, J.J. didn’t have a male role model.
But that’s changed at Kennedy Charter, and it’s really made a difference.
“My coach is a big influence in my life,” J.J. said. “(Male role models) teach you responsibility; they teach you things that men should do.”
J.J. is talking about basketball coach Eddie Addie, and other men at the school such as Principal William Stubbs.
“Coming to Kennedy Charter, I grew as a person, I matured more and I’m more responsible now,” J.J. added.
And with male, black mentors in his life pushing him to succeed, J.J. wants to go to college and is on the right track to be the first in his family to make it there.
That’s why Stubbs coordinated a new event at the school called “Real Talk: Brothers Having Dialogue,” where 80 high school males, majority black and a lot like J.J, gathered to talk about real life with 20 successful males in the Charlotte community.
“The idea for this activity came out of general conversations with the kids every day about ‘Hey, what do you want to do with your life?’ Are they focused and motivated?” Stubbs said. “Many of them just have no clue what their options are.”
Stubbs explained that many of the students at Kennedy Charter are a lot like J.J. – some come from single-parent households, some are raised by their grandparents and some are latchkey kids who are frequently home alone because their parents work late hours. Many don’t have strong influences in their lives.
“We just want them to know that they are special in our eyes and we want them to think about their future,” Stubbs said. “These are conversations I have with them on a daily basis just about, but when it’s coming from me, it can seem old or mundane. Fresh voices and fresh faces could move them in a totally different direction.”
The students broke up in groups of three to five per adult mentor. Each group discussed several questions based on how they view themselves, how they would like others to view them, their goals and what it means to succeed.
“I think the first thing is identifying what their goals are and what success is. I don’t want them to think that success means money or wealth,” Stubbs said. “It’s not the cars; it’s not several women; it’s not jewelry; it’s not jets. Success is setting a goal and attaining it because once you do that, you feel good about yourself.”
Mentors ranged from an architect, a radio personality, and retired NFL players, a teacher, author, dentist and more.
Davon Heath, a banker for Wells Fargo who specializes in mortgages, said his past is similar to a lot of the students he was mentoring. The oldest of three siblings, Heath said he grew up in a single-parent household without a male role model.
“My mom was my rock,” Heath said. “I didn’t really have anyone to look up to so I just had to stay focused.”
Heath explained that although he found success without a male role model, some young boys might not have the same drive that he had, and he just wants to be that role model to help other kids succeed.
“The direction of young gentlemen is important because they are the future,” he said. “It’s good to have that male guidance in your life.”
Chris McMichael, a former English teacher at Kennedy Charter who is currently in graduate school, said he wanted to mentor the boys because he’s seen how successful they can be.
“They need lots of rearing in a positive direction,” he said. “It’s very seldom they see positive adult males like them.”