Marvel superheroes inspired David Johnson as a child. Now the aerospace and mechanical engineer bought 60 tickets for Hartford, CT, students and parents to Black Panther - along with a private room for face painting and African drumming - to excite kids with the power of engineering and animation.

Johnson told Connecticut Public Radio that he dreamed of becoming an engineer as a child, but finding mentors who looked like him was hard. When he heard about the movie Black Panther, with black actors cast in positions of power and brilliance in the technologically superior Wakanda, he saw the film as a way of showing students of color how cool engineering can be.

Wakanda is a fictional kingdom in a secluded part of Africa that never has been colonized. While other superpowers think Wakanda is an undeveloped country, the Wakandians have secretly created the most advanced civilization on Earth thanks to vibranium, a metal with extraordinary characteristics.

David Johnson is a model to his community by his hard work and generosity in sponsoring this event for Hartford students. He's also actively trying to present role models to these students - in Black Panther's characters, and also through the National Society of Black Engineers, who set up a table in the theater lobby.

Role models are important for students as they develop a sense of identity. This was the finding of the School Cultures and Student Formation Project fielded by the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia. "There is considerable evidence that strong social support contributes crucially, if not decisively, to [children's] academic success in school, whether that support comes from parents and family, youth organizations, or religious communities. The thickness of social ties also bears positively on the formation of stable self-identity and, by extension, a child's moral character," write the editors, James Davison Hunter and Ryan S. Olson.

David Johnson and his NSBE are acting in a strong tradition of African American civic leaders who have served not only as role models for their own families but also for a vibrant local community.

These are the building blocks for the kinds of self-identity and character that Johnson - and the protagonists of Black Panther - show so well.

If you're looking for opportunities to provide mentors to someone you know, the Mentoring Initiative has a tool to help you find a mentor in your area.

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