April 21, 2008 at 2:17 am Leave a comment

Emmanuel Kelley / Adelante
Volume II, Issue 1 (Fall 2007)

Standing in front of a group of fidgeting middle school boys, Domingo Martinez asks the tough crowd what they think they’re going to learn today.

“You’re going to teach us how to be a man,” one of the younger boys replies.

A smile spreads across Martinez’s face. That’s not exactly what he had in mind when he formed Young Knights, a mentor program for middle school boys, through his fraternity Omega Delta Phi. But now that he gives it a second thought, it’s not too far from the lessons he hopes the students will learn.

Originally started in 1999 by the fraternity’s chapter at Michigan State University, Young Knights had a brief stint with The University of Texas chapter back in 2004 before it dwindled away in participation and leadership.

Martinez, service coordinator for the fraternity, revived the program last spring semester, gathering fraternity brothers to mentor students at Pearce Middle School, a school statistically below the poverty line, where gang violence and racial tensions were all too familiar.

Since then, the program has done well enough to branch out to two other low-income schools, Martin Middle School and Webb Middle School and has received additional funding.

So what does it take to be a man? Mentors try to instill five core values in the students: self-identity, education, diversity, community and leadership. But their main goal is to show the students that they are not as different from them as they seem.

“We were sitting in your seats once,” Martinez said he often tells students. Most mentors came from similar backgrounds as the students. One fraternity brother even attended Webb Middle School when he was younger, he said.

“A lot of them don’t have males that are positive in their lives and they’re really blooming from having a guy that’s sitting in there that is a little bit older than them but still approachable,” said Molly Foerster, program manager for communities and schools at Webb Middle School.

A few fraternity members and up to 25 students perform activities relating to the core values and often play sports. Although mentors visit with the students every week, it’s hard to tell what kind of effect they have on a short-term scale.

They are planting the seeds of core values in them, he said, such as value for education and leadership, “hoping they grow as they [students] grow.”

“A lot of the kids need to see someone who’s living out a goal that we talk about so much with them,” said Alicia Rainwater, an after school coordinator for Pearce Middle School. “We talk about higher education, we talk about graduating high school, but when they can actually interact with someone who’s living that out that really affects them.”

Entry filed under: Fall 2007 issue. Tags: , , .


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