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Professionals pay it forward in NAACP mentoring program

Shanice Maxwell | 11/7/2012, 7:24 a.m.
An afternoon of college prep ends with students standing tall with their Boston NAACP mentors. (Top row from L to R) Karl Dugerre, Herb Lozano, Latisha Johnson, Casaundra Knight and Marcus Curry. (Bottom row from L to R) Emmanuelle Renelique, DeNina Lewis and Deneisha Ferreira. Bryan Trench

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An afternoon of college prep ends with students standing tall with their Boston NAACP mentors. (Top row from L to R) Karl Dugerre, Herb Lozano, Latisha Johnson, Casaundra Knight and Marcus Curry. (Bottom row from L to R) Emmanuelle Renelique, DeNina Lewis and Deneisha Ferreira.

Inside the Boston Branch NAACP — behind red, white and blue flyers encouraging bystanders to vote — an eager group of mentors awaited students last Saturday. Organization members jumped excitedly each time the door’s buzzer sounded.

Launching the new Trailblazer Mentor Program was the occasion and helping high school students prepare for college was the goal.

“We identified that there are only about 17 percent of students of color that have a higher education degree in Boston,” said Emmanuelle Renelique, 25, Boston Branch NAACP Youth Works Committee chair. “We identified that as a priority because Boston has so many top colleges. We wanted to know why so many weren’t going.”     

As part of the new program, mentors worked one-on-one to help build resumes, create and revise personal essays, offer career advice, aid in scholarship searches and more. Saturday would be the first time some students would get answers to their burning questions — both academic and social — about college.

“There are a lot of kids not ready for this process yet, and I think that’s what this program is good for,” said Marcus Curry, 17, of Mattapan. “Kids at my school should know about this program too so they can get help. I’m going to try to spread the word, tell them about it and get them here.”

All mentors, six in total, are local professionals and college graduates under 30. Despite these commonalities, the most important tie they share is a desire to give back and pay it forward.

“Growing up, it was hard for me to pinpoint someone that could help me, and I just want to make it easy for the next person,” said Casaundra Knight, 26, Youth Works Committee vice chair.

“I definitely think it’s important that we set a precedent for the people that come after us,” said Herb Lozano, 23, Pipeline to Leadership Program director. “All the knowledge I’m getting I feel I have a duty to pass on.”

Stacks of applications, essay writing tips and guidelines to a successful college application welcomed students after they signed in, met with mentors and got comfortable before getting to work.

Some paired up with mentors while a small group of Boston Branch NAACP members took notes and strategized ways to improve the program for the following week.

“Kids only see what they’re surrounded by,” said Knight. “If they see more good things in the community then it’ll have a better impact [on the community].”

With the recent election and education as a hot topic, mentors agreed programs like this are crucial to strengthening communities of color.

“I think too often you have people that aren’t necessarily from the community coming into the community and dictating what it needs,” said Michael Gerard Williams Jr., 26, Young Adults Committee chair. “I just want [the students] to see people from their community giving back.”

The Trailblazer Mentor Program will meet every Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. until May 1, 2013 and is open to new volunteers.

“We believe in the power of mentorship, but it’s important to see people like you who made it,” Renelique said. “We just want to blaze the trail for the next civic leaders. We’re not just building college grads, we’re forming and preparing leaders in our community that are going to be civically engaged and involved.”