By Ariel Worthy
The Birmingham Times
Jacob Scott went to Vanderbilt University for the first time on Saturday. Though he wasn’t a student, he never imagined he would ever step foot on the campus. He was part of a poetry team who performed at the Tennessee college.
Scott, 17, is part of the Adolescent Mentoring Program (AMP), a Jefferson County-based organization that matches kids between 11-18 with mentors after coming through juvenile courts. Scott’s mentor is John Paul Taylor, founder of Real Life Poets.
“John Paul changed my entire outlook on life,” Scott said. “I didn’t see myself with a future. When he came in, he broadened my thought process for the future. He helped me channel my anger and frustration in a different way. I have an outlet for it that I didn’t know I had before.”
Jacob had a message for the students who are facing challenges: “plan for yourself.”
“Even if you’re not looking for a mentor, being in a program or place where you can express yourself and feelings, AMP is the program.”
Originally Scott wanted to be a rapper, but after joining RLP, he learned about the art of poetry. He now wants to attend Juilliard, regarded as one of the world’s leading music and dance schools in New York.
As a bit of a practice for Saturday’s performance, Scott read one of his poems in front of a group of mentors and mentees on Friday night at the AMP Mentee Awards Reception.
The room full of families was there to celebrate AMP mentees on their accomplishments. The event was held at the Beacon Addiction Treatment Center in Homewood. Students and children in the program were honored and recognized for their improvements while in AMP.
LaRhonda Scott, the Program administrator of AMP, organized the night, where students received certificates for their accomplishments, food and gifts.
“Sometimes we’ll have kids who come in with single digit grades, like a six (out of 100) in a class,” LaRhonda said. “They’ll bring that 6 up to a D or a C and nobody says a word about it. Or they’ve been skipping school and they’ve started attending school again, we don’t acknowledge it. I feel like if we encourage our kids more they’ll have more motivation to do better.”
Scott hopes the program can also help at home. Some parents aren’t as supportive as they can be, she said.
“I’ve sat in rooms with kids and their parents and I’ll say, ‘he’s doing good in this area,’ and the mom will say ‘oh he’s got you fooled,’” she said. “That’s coming from your mom. So why don’t you have any motivation? She just shot down a compliment I gave you. I feel like if they’re not getting it at home they need to get it from somewhere.”
The year-round program matches mentors to students, but more mentors are always needed, LaRhonda said. “I love my mentors because they don’t have to do this and they put in so much work,” she said. “I prefer quality over quantity. I prefer three great mentors over 40 crappy ones.”
Lamario Williams, who is also a mentor said he has noticed that the students aren’t the problem, it’s the environment where they are raised.
“I think AMP is a great program for Birmingham because of the struggles the city has had with crime in general,” said Williams, who is studying in UAB’s medical scientist training program. “From what I’ve seen, there is just a pack mentality of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. You can see they’re just a product of their environment . . . this program is trying to save kids’ lives and expose them to more than they’ve been shown.”
Some of the kids have never been out of their communities, or seen downtown Birmingham, he said.
“It can be difficult,” he said.
Williams said he wants to see the mentees do better than he is doing in the medical scientist field. “I think some of them are the next mayors, doctors and engineers,” he said.
The program is for girls as well.
Anna Moyana has mentored girls in the program since 2013. Her new mentee is now studying to be a cosmetologist. Many of the children need a parental guidance, Moyana said.
“Some kids might have a situation where parents aren’t always there in a way,” she said. They may need someone to fill that parent void. If paired up with an adult who can give you that extra care, these kids can reach a great potential.”