By Sam P.K. Collins

Over the past few months, hundreds of Black male students from across the District have received mentorship and enrichment as part of a collaborative effort that D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) entered with a nationally renowned program. 

Through their participation in the Becoming a Man (BAM) program, these students have formed tight-knit bonds with one another while learning tenets of manhood from positive male figures who are affiliated with JPMorgan Chase. 

Meanwhile, these young men continue to explore college and career opportunities and gain a deeper understanding of what it takes to achieve their goals. 

“We got more mature. I’ve seen changes in my peers. They have better etiquette. They even stopped cursing,” said Joel Brown, a sophomore at Ron Brown College Preparatory High School in Northeast. 

Joel, a shooting guard and power forward for Ron Brown’s basketball team, has dreams of entering the NBA. He said he joined BAM to have fun and be with his friends in a positive environment. 

When he’s not on the court enhancing his ball-handling skills, Joel and nine other young people who’ve formed a BAM cohort glean nuggets of wisdom from an adult who checks in with them nearly every day and conducts activities based on their needs and interests. 

Since joining the program, Joel said he’s become further emboldened to help his friends reject distractions that keep them away from the court and their academic obligations. 

“Not every young person has someone they can count on,” Joel said. 

“A lot of young people got single-parent homes. If they feel like they got someone with them, they would know they’re their brother’s keeper and we’re in this together.” 

BAM, in conjunction with The Fellowship Initiative and JP Morgan Chase, has conducted its programming not only for students at Ron Brown, but at H.D. Woodson High School and Eastern High School, also in Northeast. Other participating District schools include Ballou High School in Southeast and Roosevelt High School in Northwest.  

In total, 226 Black male DCPS students are enrolled in BAM. Next year, BAM will recruit 130 freshmen. Within four years, as BAM expands to other District public schools, participation has been projected to reach beyond 400. 

On Friday evening, Joel and other DCPS students enrolled in BAM — Joshua Hammond and Allan Alston — visited the JP Morgan Chase Innovative Branch at Skyland Town Center in Southeast. The trio, all of whom are sophomores, connected with older BAM students from New York City who visited D.C  for a college tour. 

All of these young people later met fourth-generation Washingtonian and well-renowned fashion designer Greg Harrison. 

For more than an hour, Harrison reflected on his upbringing in the nation’s capital and talked about how he launched TheMuseumDC fashion brand. As he told his story, Harrison advised the more than 60 young New Yorkers and Washingtonians about networking, making difficult choices and expanding one’s knowledge. 

Students should join Becoming a Man because once you get in that circle, it’s another vibe. You will get support from everyone who’s around you.

Joshua, sophomore at H.D.Woodson

These lessons bore a similarity to what BAM participants in D.C. get from their JP Morgan Chase mentors. 

Joshua praised his mentor for filling a void in his life at a time when he’s navigating adolescence. Since joining BAM, Johsua has had his mind on making his mother proud and eventually having enough money to help his community. 

“I joined this program to keep my mind off of negativity and not be in the streets,” said Joshua, a sophomore at H.D.Woodson, who plays guard and defensive tackle on the school football team. 

“I will spend my last two years [in high school] still working out, playing football and getting my grades,” Joshua said. “Students should join Becoming a Man because once you get in that circle, it’s another vibe. You will get support from everyone who’s around you.” 

Allan, ever cognizant of the hurdles that Black teenagers face in the District, recounted learning what he described as an important lesson about his legal rights from a lawyer he encountered while participating in BAM. 

He said that experience served as one of the numerous reminders about the amount of responsibility that comes with entering manhood. 

Even while enjoying free meals and trips around the District with his fellow BAM participants, Allan said he has his eyes on the prize. 

“I see myself going to college,” said Allan, a sophomore at H.D. Woodson, who plays strong safety and running back on the football team. 

“There are a lot of distractions and young people who don’t have the right mind. You have to be cautious. I shouldn’t be something I’m not.”

This post was originally published on The Washington Informer.