Lafayette High School employees Archie Jefferson, William Capers and Andre McLaughlin are developing “Men of Vision and Purpose.”
“Our job as mentors for these young men is not to tell them what to do,” Jefferson, a student advancement coach at Lafayette, told the Williamsburg Yorktown Daily. “Our job is to make sure we create an environment where they feel like they can do anything.”
The three men created the Men of Vision and Purpose mentoring program at the Virginia school in 2016 in response to rising truancy rates and disciplinary problems that were taking a toll on academics.
The men began meeting with male students before class in the school’s gym once a week for teamwork exercises and character building activities, and the program has since swelled to 80 students.
McLaughlin, a master police officer with James City County and the school’s resource officer, told the Daily the intent is to build a bond between school security and students, while helping them to hold themselves accountable for showing up and participating in school.
Students are expected to read copies of Capers’ motivational book “Breaking the Limits,” and to take part in local service projects and fundraisers. Jefferson, Capers and McLaughlin, meanwhile, strive to set an example of how hard work and dedication builds character through their own endeavors outside of school as independent business owners.
“Building relationships with these students is what fuels me on a daily basis,” McLaughlin said.
“What we are looking to do is change the person,” Jefferson added. “We want to touch your life. We want to hold your heart.”
While the program is still relatively new, it recently won support in the form of a $2,000 Innovative Learning Grant from the WJCC Schools Foundation, which funds programs developed by district employees to improve student support services.
Men and manliness have been under assault in recent decades. This is particularly the case in communities dominated by people of color. The success of this program is its holistic mentorship, it’s connecting of teamwork and character, and its encouragement of individual agency. There is a long history in America of celebrating “self-made” men, even though the idea itself is a myth. Historian Jim Cullen, writing in The Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture's The Hedgehog Review, “Problems and Promises of the Self-Made Myth,” warns, “Given the prevalence of past and present societies in which individual citizens are expected to orient their lives around something other than the self, it is an open, and increasingly pressing, question how long the United States can maintain a sense of cohesion and purpose around the self-made man in an economic formulation untethered to a notion of a greater good." This program is seeking to bridge that gap.
Capers told the Daily the crew is now working to expand the program to other schools and develop materials for younger students.
“We want this in as many schools as possible,” Jefferson said. “We are passionate about this. This is not something we do. This is who we are.”
Teachers and principals interested in strengthening moral and character formation in their school can find information and support about this work at the UK's The Jubilee Centre.