Growing up in Baltimore, Alphonso Mayo’s experience was all too common. His mother was a drug addict who left him with his grandparents when he was six months old. His father was incarcerated throughout his life. And he relied on football to escape from his reality.
But that didn’t stop him. When Mayo was 21, he promised his dying grandmother that he would get an education and help others. And he did. Though he didn’t learn to read and write until ninth grade, he graduated from Northwestern High School in Baltimore. Eventually he went on to Stevenson University, where he graduated with a B.S. in Human Services in 2014 and then got a Certificate in Non-Profit Management from Johns Hopkins University in 2018.
Mayo saw a lot of kids in Baltimore experiencing trauma and poverty, just as he had growing up. He saw the effects it had on these kids and he wanted to help, so he started Mentoring Mentors in 2014. The goal of Mentoring Mentors is to develop a pipeline of positive African-American role models for inner-city youth. Having positive role models and a support system that encourages African-American youth to pursue opportunities to succeed, engage in their communities, and instills in them a desire to mentor others breaks negative patterns and provides a more hopeful and encouraging outlook for the kids and the community as a whole, says Mayo.
Mentoring Mentors uses a “Near-to-Peer” model. Mentoring is intergenerational, beginning with kids in middle school (legacy builders) who are paired with high school students (mentor-apprentices), who are paired and connected with young adults who have completed high school and ideally college (mentors). With this approach, Mentoring Mentors aims to create a pipeline of African-American mentors helping African-American youth in Baltimore City.
“I want to train them early in life about the importance of investing in themselves and each other,” says Mayo. Through mentoring and social-emotional learning, Mentoring Mentors believes there is an opportunity to disrupt the trajectory of so many young people in Baltimore City. (There is a companion program for girls called, “Young Women Creating Their Transformation.”)
Most of the kids in the Mentoring Mentors program live in single-parent households and do not have a father or other male figure in their lives. They come from communities such as Windsor Hill and Walbrook Junction, which have high rates of poverty, unemployment, and violent and drug-related crime.
“Growing up black and male in Baltimore is a predictor for dismal outcomes concerning education, health, income, and criminal justice,” says Mayo, “but I won’t allow those circumstances to define our youth outcomes or life, just like I didn’t allow it to define my outcome.”
Currently, Mentoring Mentors is working with 23 students at Windsor Hill Elementary/Middle School. The focus is on recruiting kids who are underperforming academically, at risk of failing a grade, and may have had behavioral challenges in school. Since starting the program, Mayo has seen positive results – kids with better grades and attendance, who are more likely to graduate, are more positive about their futures, and who want to give back as mentors to other kids.
The OSI Community Fellowship will give Mayo the time to focus on the development of the organization without worrying about where more funding or the next paycheck will come from. “I want to make sure we really execute it well here,” says Mayo, “then we can expand. We’re into planting seeds for the future.”