"They never gave up on me."
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“I was the bad kid. I used to be the bully,” he says. “I really gave up on myself.”
But Bonnie Mwanda, the Intervention Coordinator at Heritage High School, didn’t give up on him.
“She started talking to me, and she saw some type of potential in me,” he says. “She started to get on me about my school work. She just stayed on me, like a school mom.”
To help reach Shaquan, Ms. Mwanda paired him with a mentor, Kendall Harris, who started meeting with him weekly.
A second chanceShaquan says Mwanda and Harris helped him turn his life around.
Over the past year and a half, Shaquan and Harris have a met for one hour weekly. They talk about their lives, school, current events, and anything else on their minds. They’ve even done a book study together.
Shaquan says Harris understands him and they can relate to each other. He appreciates the personal attention, having someone believe in him, and being accountable to someone.
“It made me want to go to college,” Shaquan says. “I didn’t want to do that before. It makes me want to actually do better things for myself.
Now he’s doing well academically and working hard toward graduating a semester early.
“I’ve definitely seen the change in him, wanting to do better,” Harris says. “And the main thing has been consistency. I’ve been consistent. He’s been consistent.”
Harris stresses you don’t have to be perfect to be a mentor. You just have to be present.
“You can not go in with the mindframe that you’re going to try to change somebody’s life,” he says. “You have to go in being a listener, hearing their journey, and meeting them where they are. An hour a week is not much time at all. You can do that during your lunch break.”
The payoffHarris’ time spent with Shaquan has become an investment in his future. It’s helped transform the self-labeled “bad kid” into a successful, motivated student who now wants to pursue a career in law enforcement.
“Change is possible,” Shaquan says. “No matter how deep you are into things, how deep or far gone you are, there’s always a chance. It’s a decision you have to make for yourself.”
Harris says the payoff from his time investment is priceless.
“At least he has, in his mind, a goal,” Harris says of Shaquan. “He wants to do something. He has a plan. So it makes me feel great to know that here’s a kid that has a plan. He’s breaking down those stereotypes, those barriers, as an African-American male as well.”
Paying it forwardShaquan is so thankful for the impact his mentor has had on his life that he has created a peer mentor group at Heritage High School. Administrators say he’s been able to connect with other students who were heading down a similar path of academic and behavioral problems. Shaquan has also helped those students turn things around.
About 20 students now participate in his new peer mentor program.
“A second chance is always good,” Shaquan says. “And for me, it’s wonderful.”