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Zhiyu Wang/MEDILL

Nicholas Williams (from left), Wesley Ramsey, Jordan Swanson and Sherron Garrett are current members of Kenwood Academy Brotherhood, a program, which has reportedly mentored more than 500 boys since 2004.

Kenwood program creating a legacy of teaching troubled males to mentor each other

by Zhiyu Wang
May 14, 2013


Zhiyu Wang/MEDILL

Shelby Wyatt, founder of the Kenwood Academy Brotherhood, shows a folder containing personal information about each of the members who have participated in the peer-mentoring program.

Jerode Rodgers joined the Kenwood Academy Brotherhood nearly a decade ago. Actually, he said, it was the principal at his high school who placed him into the program as the last resort before expelling him from school.

“I was fighting a lot, getting bad grades, missing a lot of days.” Rodgers said. “And one last thing I got to do before I got kicked out of high school was becoming part of a mentoring program.”

Over the past 10 years, close to more than 500 boys have come to Kenwood Academy Brotherhood, according to Shelby Wyatt, the program’s founder . In Wyatt’s office, there are pictures of Brotherhood alumni, who. were entangled in all kinds of transitions when they first came into the program.

“If you remember adolescence, adolescence can be tough,” said Wyatt, who has been a counselor at Kenwood since 1998. “The pressures they face just being teenagers, trying to get along with their parents…your peers are more important than your parents are.”

Rodgers didn’t know anything about the Brotherhood, but he wanted to become a member after his first meeting.

“It’s different when you are talking to an adult, you are going to rebel against them,” said the 27-year-old Rodgers, who is a poet and hip hop artist.. “But the at Brotherhood, it was people at your age talking to you. You know they are cool in high school and you want to be the cool person.”

At the weekly Brotherhood meetings, peers gather to talk about issues, such as sexual identity, that they feel uncomfortable discussing with other people. Wyatt said he still remembers how the group handled a situation involving a member who disclosed that he was gay.

“When he came out, our group was not judgmental,” Wyatt said. “I have to make sure the environment is always supportive, so put-downs and negative conversations, I don’t tolerate in the group,” Wyatt said.

Outside of the weekly meeting, Dr. Wyatt said he taught them to mentor each other in everyday life.

“If you see one of your fellow brothers struggling with test, struggling with homework, struggling with behavior in class, they are to look into this man, or just to chill him out a little bit,” said Wyatt, who earned his doctorate in counselor education at Northern Illinois University.

Wesley Ramsey, a junior at Kenwood, said he used to tell jokes and not listen in class.

“In the past two years, I’ve began to build up, my grades, my attitude and my behavior,” said Ramsey, who wants to study computer engineering at Michigan State University after graduation.

Wyatt said he depends on peer mentoring to keep track of the Brotherhood members. For Wyatt who has a caseload of 350 students separate from the Brothehood program., he said he depends on boys to help him keep track of what’s going on in the school.

Wyatt said the program is a good method to fill the gap for public schools that don’t have enough funding or professional counselors to provide sufficient mental health service.

He said the program used to receive funding from CPS, but it soon dried up when the recession began. In the meantime, he said he has been left to juggle and create free and inexpensive activities in which all members can participate.

“Maybe we don’t get a chance to go to Iowa, we go to downtown. Maybe we get to go to the university of Chicago. “ Wyatt said.

There are other Chicago schools that are interested in creating their own version of the program. The Brotherhood members took a couple of months to write step-by-step instructions for those schools.

Principal Gregory Jones, who was a social science teacher at Dunbar High School, where the school ran a similar program to help struggling male students.  Jones said he was aware Kenwood’s program for several years,  but  he didn’t meet Wyatt until he arrived at Kenwood last year.

On May 2, Wyatt spoke during a forum on poverty and mental health issues at DePaul University, where he discussed his program, which relies on providing structure.

Ramsey said what differentiatates Brotherhood from other organizations is that the members understand the importance of communication and commitment.