Post date: April 15, 2004
In February 2003, Theodore Miller ’03 became fed up with the one-shot community service events aimed at “reforming the youth,” particularly given the continued underperformance of high school students just three blocks away. As the outgoing coach of an intramural basketball team/quasi-formal brotherhood (Black Plague), with a history dating back to the law school days of Professor Charles Ogletree, Miller asked three of his newest teammates, Taj Clayton ’05, Louis Sterling ’05, and Kevin C. Jones ’05, a simple question: “What is the one thing we can do to have a genuine impact on today’s youth?” Having worked extensively on youth development projects in policy school and various public interest jobs, Jones responded with one word: “mentoring.” On April 17, just over one year after that conversation, Harvard’s Black Law Student’s Association is hosting its 2nd Annual Mentorship Day to showcase its Learning & Mentorship Project (LAMP). LAMP currently serves over 100 “high-risk” students from the nearby Cambridge Rindge & Latin High School.
“I was extremely reluctant to chime in on that conversation,” says Jones. That’s because the long-term interventions highlighted by the program statistics makes Harvard Law School one of the least likely birthplaces for a rapidly expanding mentorship initiative. “I had no idea how committed my teammates and the emerging leadership of HBLSA under Yohannes Tsehai ’04, and now Kenitra Fewell ’05, were to helping young people excel academically, personally and socially” says Jones.
LAMP, a school-based mentoring program that matches law students with local high school students, is a result of that commitment. The basic goal of LAMP is to reverse the trend of underachievement particularly, but not exclusively, among students of color. Studies show that continuous and persevering mentoring programs decrease the likelihood of drug use, violence, and truancy, while improving self-esteem, grades and family relationships. LAMP tries to achieve the continuity that spawns those positive impacts, despite the hectic schedule of law students, by employing a dual program structure that uses both one-on-one mentoring and group programming. This year, LAMP’s group programming has included a music concert for over 250 students in the fall, a college application pizza party, a record number of Street Law workshops presented to over 500 students, and a highly successful fundraising party coordinated by J. Jerome Hughes ’05.
According to Laurel Brown ’05, one of LAMP’s co-chairs, this project pushes beyond mere “reform” efforts by “focusing on and being molded by the creativity, leadership potential, and relative expertise of high school students when it comes to their needs.” Instead of forcing values upon the students, LAMP takes a collaborative approach that embraces youth culture and merely aids the youth in defining their own future goals. To this end, the upcoming Mentorship Day, like last year’s, will draw upon various youth-centered themes and even include hip-hop figures on its creative career exposure panel as well as an Urban Wear fashion show.
“Now that we have three more co-chairs, including Daniel Osler ’05, Chaz Arrnett ’06, and Todd Johnson ’06, our goals going into the future, besides more quality control, include figuring out ways to further institutionalize and expand the program, and diversifying our funding base,” says Jones. “I realize that Theodore’s charge was quite broad, but given the dearth of mentors of color and statistics showing an alarming correlation between graduation rates and prison records for young people of color, I think we are definitely on the right track.”