Seniors complete mentorship program
March 14, 2016
Seniors Evan Weatherly, Obasi Lewis, and Brandon Banks were honored on Saturday March 5 in a Rites of Passage ceremony, a culmination of an eight-month mentorship program designed to prepare African-American high school senior boys for college and the professional world.
The Rites of Passage ceremony was founded 18 years ago by parents involved in the Jack and Jill of America organization’s Minneapolis chapter. Jack and Jill is an organization designed to allow African-American teens to grow stronger in their leadership within the community supported and helped by their guardians and other family members. “One of the main bases of the [Jack and Jill of America] is being able to welcome new families to the community after they have moved or been transferred to a new state or city,” Banks said.
Chapters from all over the country meet once a year at the regional conference. These conferences consist of leadership modules, discussions revolving around social justice issues, and college preparedness. “Last year we went to Chicago for the regional conference at Lehman College, where members of other chapters came from Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Iowa. This year, the regional conference was hosted at St. Thomas here in Minneapolis,” Lewis said.
There also is always one central project that chapter members vote on per year. All projects’ goals are to help anyone living in poverty or in need of a support system. “Last year, we went to a library, donated books, fixed up their gardens, painted the building, refurbished bathrooms, and just brought a new life to an old library,” Banks said.
Jack and Jill works for the betterment of education, college preparation, and access to internships. The Minneapolis chapter attends historical plays, speakers, discussions, and is very involved in the community. “Each chapter has their specific thing they do for community service, we focus on the Boys and Girls Club and the Crisis Nursery. Across the nation, we have to fulfill community service requirements,” Lewis said.
It’s all about promoting promising African-American seniors and celebrating their accomplishments
— Evan Weatherly
Although Rites of Passage was founded out of Jack and Jill, not all of the initiates (participating seniors) come out from the Jack and Jill program, and not all of the seniors in Jack and Jill go through Rites of Passage. Banks, Lewis, and Weatherly all transitioned into Rites of Passage from Jack and Jill. Admission to Rites of Passage is selective. Initiates must go through a rigorous application and interview process in order to the opportunity is presented to only the most promising young men. This year, a record number of 17 initiates took part in the ceremony. “It’s all about promoting promising African-American seniors and celebrating their accomplishments,” Weatherly said.
The Rites of Passage is a process founded on the ideals of unity, self-determination, collective work, cooperative economics, purpose, and faith. Each initiate is partnered with a mentor who is an African-American male working from a professional field in which the initiate hopes to explore. Most of the mentors are business executives, but the fields range from law to engineering to medicine. Mentors meet with their initiate each week during preparation for the ceremony to discuss and share knowledge about the professional world. “We meet with our mentors every week and every two weeks there’s a workshop that focuses on a specific skill,” Weatherly said.
Giving back is a major theme carried throughout the entire Rites of Passage experience. The current class writes solicitation letters to family, friends and businesses to fund the next year’s activities, and each initiate is required to serve mandatory community service hours during the preparation process. Also, it is not uncommon for initiates to return to the program as mentors after they achieve success in their field. Even if they don’t return as mentors, the more than 200 graduates of the process remain in touch and are invited gather every year around Christmas to network and socialize with the new initiates.