Clinton Global Initiative University 2013 Commitment-Maker; Epidemiology Major at University of Rochester
Growing up in the Bronx, violence was inescapable, with age offering no immunity. When I was in sixth grade, Gang members shot and killed two of my closest friends as we walked home from school one day. We were only 20 minutes from home.
It was the walk home that rocked my childhood, and in its wake, I could have easily succumbed to the fate of so many around me, who ended up in jail or in the grave.
But instead of getting derailed, I grew more determined to help end the senseless violence that plagues my community and many out there like mine. I am motivated by my backstory -- and my current success as an epidemiologist-in-the-making at the University of Rochester, a participant at Clinton Global University 2013 (CGI U), and a Gates Millennium Scholar -- to call other college-educated black men to action. I am walking proof that we can make a significant impact on the black youth in our communities. Through CGI U 2013, I am advancing the kind of mentorship that will ultimately save black men's lives.
Inspired by Gandhi's belief that "to reach real peace in the world we shall have to begin with the children," I recently founded Young Men at Peace, an after-school nonviolence education and empowerment program for adolescent boys in the Rochester City School District, where black males graduate at the lowest rate in the country -- a criminal 9 percent. Between 2009 and 2011, homicide was the leading cause of death among Rochester city youth, with African American males representing most of the victims.
I have seen firsthand that mentorship can play a transformative role in the development of young men who often get left behind. Therefore, I am charging minority college students all over the United States to reach out to the inner-city schools near their universities, and even their home states, to mentor underserved boys and girls. No matter how ordinary you think your achievements are (and I assure you they're not), they allow you to offer youth a support system that is critical and unique. As a college student, you are capable of providing them with resources, connecting them to different opportunities, and offering them the inspiration to pursue a future beyond the options on their streets.
My relationship with a middle-school student I mentored through a local outreach program informed my decision as a college senior to launch Young Men at Peace. After doing research, I designed an intervention strategy with a focus on individualized mentoring, recruiting other undergrads to lead nonviolence education workshops based on the models for change I have developed.
My CGI U 2013 Commitment to Action will focus on implementing and growing this individualized mentorship for the boys at School No. 19 in Rochester. Every week, young undergraduate men from the University of Rochester lead workshops on topics such as the importance of education, what it means to be a man, tools for nonviolence, and the power of forgiveness. The workshops are fun and engaging, and through CGI University, I hope to not only expand them, but also make sure they live on long after I graduate.
The mentoring program has offered the kids something to looks forward to, but it has changed my life as well. I am no longer someone who watches and wonders why things happen; whether in my epidemiology or my mentorship, I directly participate in creating change.
But I can't do it alone. I am calling on black men at colleges from coast to coast, in programs ranging from exercise science to engineering, to join me in mentoring youth in the world around them. As a black male who's not only escaped the violence of the Bronx, but emerged as a leader through Young Men at Peace and CGI U, I urge others like me to engage in changing lives. Trust me, you won't find a more rewarding endeavor after class.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Clinton Global Initiative in recognition of the latter's CGI University meeting (April 5-7 at Washington University in St. Louis). CGI University gathers top students and youth organizations to create innovative solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges. For more information, click here.