Winthrop students mentor middle schoolers at Emmett Scott

jmcfadden@heraldonline.comFebruary 2, 2013 

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    Parents can sign their children up for the G.E.N.T.S. Academy by contacting Aaron Eichelberger at or Latoya Mcdonald with the Emmett Scott Recreation Center at 803-329-5661.

— Twelve-year-old Marcel Samedi can sound off his life goals for at least the next decade – play high school basketball, play college basketball and get drafted into the NBA – in less than a minute.

As of Saturday, he also can tie a tie, help build a standing tower made of raw spaghetti noodles, string, masking tape and one marshmallow. Also, after a name game, he boasts a new moniker: “Motorcycle Marcel.”

“He’s a bright kid ... a little shy, but I’m trying to get him” to come out of his shell, said Samedi’s mentor, Tyron Nowlin, a 22-year-old college student who offered to give Samedi, a New York native, a tour of the city, insight into college life and help with basketball.

Marcel was one of 10 middle school-aged boys who gathered Saturday at the Emmett Scott Recreation Center, where they paired up with “gentors” – 16 male Winthrop University students who spent four hours teaching and guiding them about leadership and peer pressure during day two of the G.E.N.T.S. (Graduating Excellence Necessary to Succeed) Academy.

The Winthrop students, part of the Gentlemen’s League, an on-campus group that empowers minority male students, kicked off their mentorship program at Emmett Scott last month hoping to give young boys positive role models and prevent them from going down the wrong road, said organizer Aaron Eichelberger, 21.

Eichelberger, a junior economics major at Winthrop, said the idea came when he tutored students at Emmett Scott one-on-one as part of the university’s homework clinic. He realized there’s a “huge need” for “male mentorship” in the area.

The mentors, dubbed “gentors,” serve “gentees” – in the sixth through eighth grades – every first and third Saturday. Activities include movie nights, etiquette dinners and community service outings. “Gentees” also receive points for community service, dressing appropriately, keeping grades up and attending G.E.N.T.S. events.

It costs nothing for parents to sign their children up for the weekend program, Eichelberger said, adding that the group is looking for as much community input and help as possible.

“We thought about serving the middle-school male demographic because they don’t have many programs,” he said. “It just really came from this idea of consistent service and being positive role models.”

That’s the reason why, on her way to work Saturday, Donna Grant dropped her 11-year-old son, BJ, off at the gym.

“It’s good to see...young black men doing something” besides selling drugs or hanging out in the streets, she said. Except for churches, she said, there aren’t many groups in the community focused on helping preteen boys.

“This is a great thing,” she said.

For Gentlemen’s League member Karlton Wallace, a 21-year-old senior music major at Winthrop, it’s about crushing stereotypes about “the young black youth in this generation.”

“We can be that male figure to stop them from going down that negative road,” he said. ”

Just ask first-timer C.J. Gullatt, 13, who said he’ll “most definitely” be back after his team of fellow mentees worked for 15 minutes to build a tower with just spaghetti noodles, string, tape and one marshmallow, which could only be at the top of the structure.

All of it was an effort to show why teamwork and leadership go hand-in-hand.

During a session about peer pressure, 12-year-old Zacharia Ashley was the first to give a definition: “When someone keeps telling you do to do something and you don’t want to do it,” he said.

Kaderes Street, 14, shared his own experience with peer pressure when he said kids at school tried to persuade him to smoke weed.

He refused, he said.

“Choose your friends wisely,” said Andrew Gates, a junior sports management major from Irmo. “Don’t hang out with people who are going to constantly bring you down. Hang around with people who are going to make you better.”

Winthrop senior Austin Smith, who studies digitial information design, told the group that when most people think “peer pressure,” they mention drugs, alcohol and gangs. But, there are positive forms, as well, he said.

“In college, being involved on campus” and taking trips to the library to keep grades up can encourage friends to do the same, said Smith, 21. “Even in your friend groups, you can be leaders.”

Want to go?

Parents can sign their children up for the G.E.N.T.S. Academy by contacting Aaron Eichelberger at or Latoya McDonald with the Emmett Scott Recreation Center at (803) 329-5661.

Jonathan McFadden• 803-329-4082

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