I grew up in Oakland, in a community plagued by violence and crime. In the 11th grade, when I was a star football player, I was a victim of a drive-by shooting. I lost a kidney, along with the opportunity at obtaining a football scholarship. As a result I thought my chances of going to college were shot. But with the support of everyone around me I decided to recommit to college, but I needed mentors to guide me through. Without mentors, I knew that it would be close to impossible to succeed.
The East Bay College Fund awarded me with a college scholarship along with my first mentor. Like me, he played sports. I had goals of working in youth development — he worked in youth development. His advice was credible because he’d experienced similar obstacles and even attended the same university. He taught me the importance of getting out of my comfort zone and about using campus resources which lead me to discover a computer lab on campus, one-on-one tutors I could work with and a college adviser. With his help, resources I thought were out of my reach became reachable.
My mentoring program also provided a writing tutor who helped me develop my passion for writing and help me get published in The Oakland Post newspaper. Amy taught me crucial lessons about how to write efficiently. She would often call to check on me even when we weren’t discussing writing topics which demonstrated that she cared as much about me personally as she did professionally.
Still college was hard and at one point, I really began to struggle, both academically and personally. I thought my mentors would be disappointed in me and I thought I would lose my scholarship — but they tracked me down to make sure I was ok. Both of them were nonjudgmental and showed me that they would support me through the difficult times.
Today, a string of mentors still support me. I graduated in 2010, and they are the main reason I got through. And now I’m a mentor to other kids, kids who had dreams of getting to college and getting ahead. I got up and out of Oakland, but I’ve come back to help others like I was helped. Being a mentor is nearly as good as having one: really, I suggest you try it. We need mentors right now for kids in Oakland who are making that long leap to college. Mentors like you can easily get started by finding the right organization online. You’ll never regret it.
With a Perspective, I’m Jameil Butler.
Jameil Butler is the college advocate for the East Bay College Fund.