Growing up in Pontiac, Michigan, James Henderson spent hours at the city’s recreation centers—until they were shut down due to budget cuts. When Henderson attended college in Baltimore, he saw history repeat itself: the Leith Walk Recreation Center in Northeast Baltimore, where he volunteered as a youth basketball coach and mentor, shut down, breaking the hearts of the 120 students in the program.
Although afterschool programs and community centers have been shown to reduce youth contact with the criminal justice system, they were being closed all over Baltimore. “I felt like I needed to do something that would have a lasting effect on my city,” Henderson says. A path forward soon appeared.
Soon after the recreation center closed, Henderson’s son was looking at colleges. As they made plans to tour several Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Ivy League schools, other students that Henderson had worked with at the recreation center expressed an interest in joining. Henderson enlisted his fraternity brothers from the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Beta Alpha Lambda Chapter to rent a charter bus and hit the road with 19 high school students during spring break. The trip was a success, but it was financially unsustainable for Henderson’s fraternity brothers. Still, Henderson saw the potential.
“We affected 19 kids’ lives,” says Henderson. “Seeing their eyes and hearing their conversations when we were on a tour and after, it seemed like the right thing to do to keep it going.”
And so, he did. Henderson started the MTM Foundation, Inc. to help more young people go on college tours and see firsthand an option for the future. He began getting funders and partnering with local high schools. As more young people went on the college tours, Henderson recognized that not all kids go to college. He began incorporating entrepreneurial lessons into the tours and held pitch competitions during the long bus rides from campus to campus. Then he started an afterschool program on business and entrepreneurship at one high school in Baltimore. Then another school wanted a program, too.
With the OSI Community Fellowship, Henderson hopes to build Pathways to College or Entrepreneurship into a program that is available to every high school student in Baltimore. Henderson plans to start by working with 135 students between the ages of 13-18. Most of the participants will be first generation college students with a focus on recruiting students from low-income households, homeless students, and disenfranchised youth.
Students can participate in either the “College Pathway” or the “Entrepreneurship Pathway.” Participants in the College Pathway will participate in college tours and SAT prep, write college essays and resumes, do financial aid research, and other college exploration activities. Those participating in the Entrepreneurship Pathway will participate in workshops with local business owners that focus on learning about sales, budgeting, marketing, and more. They will also be trained on how to manage initial investments in start-up ideas and compete in a pitch competition. The top two pitches will receive an award of $1000 each.
Ultimately, Henderson’s goal is to help young people understand how to create generational wealth. “They need to have the knowledge of how to break the economic curse,” says Henderson.
Being selected as an OSI Community Fellow reassures Henderson that people believe in what he is doing. During his interview for the fellowship, Henderson was asked to talk about how the services he provides schools might be a value add that a school system would pay for. “I hadn’t thought about my services as something a school would want to pay for,” Henderson says. Now he sees that as an option as he grows his program. “I think the OSI Fellowship is going to open avenues that I never even thought of.”