Compiled by Sarah Gould from interviews with Amos Pierre, nurse Ashmore Hyndman, here Christopher Coleman, ed Idris Robinson, Michael Tucker, Timothy James, Romell Floyd, Angel Lopez, Travis McLeod, Jamaa, Trey, T’Quan, John’Trell, Jalon
In 1991, two premier organizations partnered to meet the need of African-American boys across the nation. Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. (APHIA) and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (BBBS) joined arms to rally more African-American men to mentor the many young African-American boys with potential in our country. In 2006, at the APHIA Convention, the General President Darryl R. Matthews issued a call for 10,000 Alpha men to fulfill the absolutely critical need for African-American BBBS mentors. In that same year, the Beta Gamma Chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. located at Virginia State University (VSU) answered the call of their General President. No one, not the Petersburg school system, not the BBBS Tri-Cities Office, nor the Beta Gamma themselves had any idea to what greatness was going to be achieved in the following two years.
A Promising Beginning
In 2006 the first Beta Gamma members became Big Brothers at J.E.B. Stuart Elementary School in Petersburg. Seven members mentored for the academic year. In addition to mentoring, the organization recruited their VSU peers, growing the number of children served by BBBS in Petersburg from 10 in 2005 to 35 in 2006. In September 2007, Beta Gamma made history as being the only APHIA Chapter to have 100 percent of their membership become Big Brothers. For the 2006-2007 academic year, the Beta Gamma Chapter members served 17 Petersburg African-American boys, the most by any APHIA Chapter in the country in one year.
Now is the time for the Greater Richmond African-American community to continue the historical steps made by the men of Beta Gamma in Petersburg. “Our African-American boys are one of our most critical assets deserving our attention, time and wisdom,” states Michael Tucker, President of the Beta Gamma Chapter. “We have so much potential in the students in our schools, children in our churches and the kids in our neighborhoods. They are future great men.”
“Our boys need to see a man to become a man,” says Brother Dale Long, Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. BBBS Liaison.
“I didn’t learn to be a man from my father, I only saw him twice in my life because he was in jail,” Idris Robinson shares. “I looked up to my grandmother as a man because she was a provider. A man does not have to be a ‘physical man,’ a man has to be a provider. I have learned from my Fraternity [what] a man is. I don’t always have to be in the limelight, I don’t always have to be a ‘the man on campus.’ I am much more of a man making a difference with my Little Brother John’Trell in the shadows of the school, than I am anywhere else.”
“My dad died when I six and I don’t like to think about it,” states Timothy James. “My family then moved near my Uncle. My Uncle taught me how to think like a man, that came about through him sharing, giving advice. My Fraternity taught me to better myself so I can then better those around me; to better the community, not necessarily through money, but giving back in all other ways. Before joining the Fraternity I didn’t really get involved, and they made me. And that involvement made me more of man, and even a better African-American man.”
“I did not have a father figure,” Christopher Coleman says. “My older brother made sure I did not fall through the cracks. My Fraternity taught me to be responsible, be disciplined, how to respect women, and how to present [myself] socially and in the business world. I was told to become a Big Brother by my fraternity, but then once I met Charlie, my Little Brother, I couldn’t believe I had not been a Big Brother before.”
“I had never met a man in college before, and never an African-American man who went to college,” says Trey, the Little Brother of Timothy James. I had never met a man as smart as my Big Brother. He gave me really good details about everything we talked about. Because I want to be a doctor, I try to be like Tim so that I too can get a full-scholarship to college just like him. He gives me a perfect example of what I should do right.”
“In the year and half Ashmore has taught me science, how to be more serious about my work, how to be less shy and most exciting, how to step,” says Little Brother T’Quan of his Big Brother Ashmore Hyndman.
Ashmore says, “I know for sure that I am making our society a better place by supporting T’Quan. T’Quan is an especially bright and gifted child who has the potential to impact his school and community in ways never done before.”
“In the beginning Charlie was shy,” Christopher Coleman remembers. “And then he became energetic and always came to me with a warm welcome. I hope he learned from our relationship to always strive, always be good, believe he has a future and that no one can stop him from getting what he wants. He taught me that I can be there for someone. I am someone a boy can look up to. Since I didn’t have a dad or anything like a Big Brother, our relationship made me know I am capable of being a good father figure. I know that I will never let my son go through what I went through.”
This year Tim and Trey could have gotten new Brothers because Tim accepted a position at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. However, Tim and Trey keep in contact through weekly phone calls, letters, and visits. “When Tim calls I get so excited because I know he has not forgotten about me. I know he cares for me and that feels so good!” exclaims Trey.
Idris Robinson credits his Little Brother John’Trell as one of the most significant people in his life. “When John’Trell told me that if he could be anybody in the world he would want to be me, that changed my life. He makes me want to be the best man I can be. John’Trell looks innocent, but he acts up in class, he is just like I was in school. He is a person I know I can really help. Knowing how close we have become in our second year together, I cannot wait for our third year together.”
Romell Floyd, “If I help DeMarkus be a better person than me, then he can mentor a boy to become an even better person than DeMarkus himself.” The power of the legacy of such a relationship will never be quantifiable, but the positive impact can never be questioned.
The goals and legacy of the Beta Gamma Chapter have already proven to be alive in the next generation. Trey confirmed with authority that he is going to become an Alpha when he attends college, “I want to become an Alpha, not just because my Brother Tim is, but because of how they work together, they get along and they help you in all types of different ways.”
Creating Positive Statistics for African-American Boys
One in nine African-American men ages 25 – 29 compared to 1 in 133 U.S. residents were behind bars on June 30, 2006 (SOURCE: One in 100: Behind Bars in America 2008 The Pew Center on the States). This statistic hit too close to home for Angel Lopez, who said, “When my Little Brother said ‘[All] men fight, that is why I fight,’ I knew I was needed.” Angel’s Little Brother Jamaa now wants to be like Angel; in the Army and jumping out of airplanes. Angel used his military and fraternity leadership training to teach Jamaa how to march, set goals and respect others.
Romell Floyd says that Beta Gamma is breaking that statistic and making a new one. Studies suggest that the BBBS mentoring program prevents Littles from engaging in a range of high risk behaviors that would lead them to become incarcerated. The Beta Gamma Chapter wants to create positive statistics regarding African-American men. They want the statistic to be, 1 in 9 African-American men mentor with BBBS.
President of Beta Gamma Michael Tucker declares, “I challenge all fraternities, alumni and college, all civic and service organizations, businesses, colleges, spiritual communities and neighborhood associations to work toward achieving this positive statistic.”
“It is powerful that we can be involved in these Little’s lives and actually decrease the negative statistics they are susceptible to,” pronounces Amos Pierre.
To learn more about joining BBBS in the Tri-Cities Region, please call 541-8208
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Richmond, 261-4940 www.BigBroBigSis.com.
To learn more about the Beta Gamma Chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., at VSU, contact Michael Tucker at 943-7010 or Idris Robinson at (267) 475-5656. www.AlphaPhiAlpha.net