Mentoring program receives federal grant

By Zakiya Scott
UNC Staff Writer
the Durham VOICE

How many African-Americans aspire to be athletes? Not to knock “the game,” as Damon Nash calls it, but he works to encourage young African-American males to see themselves in a multitude of lights, not just one.

Nash, a Miles College graduate from Cleveland, Ohio, and a prominent motivational speaker in the area, tells them, “Education is never a back-up plan. It’s part of the overall plan.”

Two students, Mr. Jordan Grafton (4th grade) and Mr. Dyriec Johnson (5th grade) are surrounded by Brother to Brother mentors. Nash uses last names with all mentees, one way that he establishes a high level of mutual respect. (Photo courtesy of Damon Nash)

Nash rhetorically asks, after playing professional basketball until the age of 27, what are you going to do with the remaining 60 years of your life? This is why Nash says it’s important for African-American young men to see themselves first, as students.

Nash is program director for Fayetteville Street Elementary’s Brother to Brother Program, which aims to create an environment that allows African-American boys in third through fifth grade to achieve in school…and in life.

Prior to his involvement with Brother to Brother, Nash led the African-American Male Leadership Academy, a similar program that helped young African-American men in the ninth through twelfth grade in the Durham area. The program ended because of a lack of funding in January 2011. Since then, a new program has emerged.

On February 15, Fayetteville Street Elementary received a federal grant for $1.2 million from the National Education Association to focus on the achievement gap of African-American males.

Principal Rod Teal served as the initial visionary for Brother to Brother. He handpicked 25 of his students to take part in the free mentoring program. Teal then collaborated with Nash, who brought his “TAG” philosophy on board to support his vision: Thoughts drive action to receive a goal.

More specifically, the environment that these young men are exposed to shapes the thoughts they create and their self-image, which may be maintained through adulthood. With Brother to Brother, the students begin to see themselves in a new light as not just going to college but graduating from college.

Admirable men from the Alpha Kappa and Durham Alumni Chapters of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc. and the A.S. Hunter Masonic Lodge serve as mentors for Brother to Brother students.

Program Directors, Damon Nash and Principal Rod Teal and Grant Director, Kendra Brown at the first Brother to Brother mentor breakfast. (Photo courtesy of Damon Nash)

“These are mature-minded gentlemen to guide them and serve as examples as who they’d like to become,” said Teal.

For students, mentors serve as tangible examples of success in college and in the workforce. They reinforce things like good note-taking skills and study habits by holding students accountable for their actions with a commitment letter. One of the stipulations includes a pledge to study for at least a half an hour beyond assigned schoolwork.

A primary focus of the program is public speaking, a topic that Nash is very familiar with. He focuses on students’ projection, eye contact and making a connection with the audience as students work on speeches about why college is in their future.

“That way, when they go to middle school, they don’t just do the presentation. They destroy it. They wow them,” said Nash.

With new funding, Teal and Nash will have hard evidence as to how Brother to Brother affects the grades and behaviors of young African-American males. They plan to host field trips to places like Washington, D.C., and Charlotte, N.C., to pull Durham residents out of their comfort zones and immerse them in a new environment, in addition to visiting museums and historic sites.

Brother to Brother entails a high level of involvement by program directors and mentors, along with a mutual commitment by the students.  For example, on his days off, Nash makes unscheduled visits to the school and even sits in on classes to check on his students. This type of dedication does not come as a surprise, as Nash has a 9-year-old son.

“I’m an African-American male, raising an African-American male. I see the challenges they’re going through firsthand,” said Nash of his son, Dakarai.

For Damon Nash programs, products, and ways to connect to him go to,