Kansas City, January 23, 2020: James McGee just wants some consideration.
Mr. McGee is one of about 45 Kansas City Public Schools students who participate in the Men Of Color, Honor and Ambition (MOCHA) mentorship program. That program just received considerable support in the form of a $20,000 grant from Kansas City’s Prime Health Foundation.
The new funds are a sign for McGee that the entire community is starting to understand the need to support young black men in Kansas City. He reflected on the impact of getting to know people like KCPS Superintendent Mark Bedell through the MOCHA program.
“I’m very grateful for this grant, because there is a lack of mentorship opportunities for young African Americans,” said McGee, who is a junior at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy. “We need this push. We need the chance to interact with and be inspired by African Americans who are in positions of power. That’s what the MOCHA program does.”
The MOCHA mentoring program is dedicated to helping young men in high school to achieve academic success. MOCHA is open to high school male students entering their sophomore year. Although it is open to participants of any race or ethnicity, it has specifically been designed through the lens of male students of color.
The grant was presented by Prime Health Foundation’s chair, Dr. Susan B. Wilson, during the KCPS School Board meeting Wednesday evening, Jan. 22 at the Board of Education building. The MOCHA mentoring program was a logical fit for the mission of the foundation, Dr. Wilson explained.
“When you look at the data, men of color have some the worst health outcomes, employment outcomes, and criminal justice outcomes that you can ever imagine,” she said. “As a health care foundation, we would be remiss if we didn’t develop a strategy. Under my leadership, we developed a men of color grant-making initiative.”
January is National Mentoring Month, which is an opportunity to recognize the students and adults who participate in a range of mentoring programs launched when Dr. Bedell became the superintendent of Kansas City Public Schools. All of these programs are overseen by Assistant Superintendent of Equity, Inclusion and Innovation Derald Davis and Director of Mentoring Services Sherenna Clinton.
“This is something that is near and dear to my heart,” Dr. Bedell said during the School Board meeting. “One of the things that we said in our strategic plan was that it was critical that we figure out how do we provide safety nets for our students. We said that those safety nets would come through mentoring.”
McGee joined the MOCHA program as a sophomore, overcoming his resistance to his mom’s encouragement and his own skepticism that the program was just a token effort to make the school district look good. He quickly developed genuine relationships with the mentors and realized that the program was truly valuable.
“Those connections and relationships have made a huge difference in my life,” McGee said. “I’m proud of the growth I’ve made with their guidance. They’ve turned me into a leader.”
McGee is a leader by any definition. In addition to his participation in the MOCHA program, he is a school ambassador, he serves on the student council, he is a member of the pep club, and he can often be found leading tours around the historic “Castle on the Hill.” McGee was also one of the students who helped push for the recent construction of a high-quality football, soccer and track and field facility on the eastside of the campus.
Programs like MOCHA are needed because many young people of color still bear the weight of historic and systemic racism and discrimination, McGee said. He encouraged more adults to volunteer as mentors.
“What we want is consideration,” he said. “We’re capable of great things if you just give us the support and the opportunity.”