CINCINNATI -- Tyran Stallings loved teaching middle school science, but he grew frustrated by the limitations of the classroom.
“You’re constrained as a teacher. You’re limited within the school hours,” he said. “When kids leave you for the summer, most of what you’ve done can potentially become undone.”
That’s why, after 15 years as a teacher, Stallings decided to pursue a path that he believed would allow him to reach more kids. He started a business as an educational consultant and launched a nonprofit organization called the D.A.D. Initiative, now in its fourth year.
The “D.A.D.” stands for Directing Adolescent Development. As the name implies, the mission is to give young men, ages 11 and up, positive male role models and mentors.
Roughly 300 students take part in the program, and they get to know the successful, black men who volunteer as mentors. Many of the boys don’t have father figures in their lives, but others do.
“The more kids we can impact, the safer it is for our kids,” Stallings said.
Having those strong, male mentors is especially important for young, black men whose fathers don’t live in their homes, said Gwen Robinson-Benning, CEO of the Cincinnati-Hamilton County Community Action Agency, where Stallings serves as a board member.
“It’s powerful,” Robinson-Benning said. “These men who had strong role models have now become the mentors in these young men’s lives, especially making sure they understand the power of education in their lives. More importantly, they’re honest and open with them.”
That includes having frank discussions about the odds of becoming a professional athlete or famous musician in addition to lessons that could improve -- and save -- lives.
“I’ve learned that always take school 100 percent serious. You might as well try your hardest,” said C.J. Robinson, 17, a senior at Walnut Hills High School who has been part of the D.A.D. Initiative for about two years. “I’ve learned how to deal with police to make sure I get home.”
‘I can still be a leader’
C.J. said his mom signed him up for the program, and he was excited from the start.
“I was willing,” he said. “Every male needs another male role model in their lives. For those who don’t have them, it’s important to be here.”
Lamar Parker’s mom signed him up for the D.A.D. Initiative, too, because she wanted him to be around more men, he said.
“They teach you a lot of stuff, how to be a man, how to grow up and be successful and how to learn how to do stuff on your own and be independent,” said Lamar, 12, a seventh grader at Clark Montessori High School. “Even though I’m not the biggest person, I can still be a leader.”
Some boys in the programs have fathers in their homes, and some of the fathers serve as mentors, too, Stallings said.
His own son, Tariq Stallings, is a prime example.
A 17-year-old senior at Princeton High School, Tariq has been involved in the D.A.D. Initiative since his father started it.
“It’s just something about having more varieties of more well rounded people,” Tariq said. “My dad is like an entrepreneur -- an outgoing person. It’s nice to also be around someone who works in finance and can teach me stuff.”
Stallings said an important part of the program’s success is its “collaborative mentoring” approach. Most mentoring programs pair students and mentors one-to-one. But if something happens and the mentor has to stop working with the student, that becomes one more adult who has disappointed the child, Stallings said.
“The group concept is saying, you can have us all,” Robinson-Benning said.
The program has monthly brunches at Light of the World Church on Central Parkway where students gather to eat, talk with each other and their mentors and take part in activities designed to make them successful. Stallings is working to launch Project: Passport, a program that aims to help lower-income youth travel outside the U.S.
Reaching out to student athletes
The D.A.D. Initiative also is expanding this school year to reach out to student athletes to help guide the decisions they make that could impact their futures.
The new effort is called Athletes Ready for College Success, or A.R.C.S., and it aims to work with high school freshmen athletes on character development, goal setting, college and career readiness and financial literacy, said Stallings, who coaches track at Princeton High School.
“As a coach, you hear a lot of stories about athletes who have tons of talent but haven’t met the criteria to play at a Division I school,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we could put some safeguards in place.”
The program will teach participants study skills, how to prepare for tests and will make sure students understand what their GPA and class requirements are if they want to go on to college.
A.R.C.S. also will prepare high school athletes to mentor younger athletes so the younger kids understand what it takes to balance high school academics and sports successfully, said Cincinnati Public Schools Athletics Manager Joshua Hardin.
“That way we have that never-ending cycle of our students learning to be good students,” he said. “We’re looking to prepare students for college, put them in the position to make good choices and get them job placement.”
Hughes STEM High School, Western Hills High School and Woodward Career Technical High School are piloting the A.R.C.S. program this year. Jamell Taylor, a mediation facilitator at Western Hills who also is a board member of the D.A.D. Initiative, said he thinks the work will make a big difference for students.
“It’s especially important for the African-American young men because a lot of times what they see from someone they deem as successful may be kind of unrealistic,” Taylor said.
Young men need to understand that very few people ever become professional athletes, he said, but that doesn’t mean they can’t channel their passion for sports into a career.
“If you share a strong passion and a strong drive to be successful and this is what you really believe in, you can still be involved in the industry through a number of different means,” Taylor said. “We want to expose them to that and expose them to professions.”
Most of all, Stallings said, A.R.C.S. wants to communicate that it isn’t right to lower standards to help student athletes find success because that won’t help them throughout the rest of their lives.
“It’s important for student-athletes to understand the value lies on the academic side every time,” Stallings said. “You’re a student-athlete, with a big ‘student’ and a small ‘athlete.’ And we hold them accountable for that.”
Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. She has been writing about women- and minority-owned businesses in Greater Cincinnati for nearly 20 years. To read more stories by Lucy, go to www.wcpo.com/may. To reach her, email email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.