African-American teen boys go to the heart of BBMP’s effort to groom a responsible, caring generation of future husbands and fathers. (Courtesy photos)

No one knows better than Stephon Smallwood how badly children need to feel a sense of belonging. He grew up in the Washington, D.C. area until his family moved to Memphis.

“I was an only child,” he said. “So I didn’t have siblings who could help me work some things out. Like so many teenagers, I entered a rebellious stage right at the ages of 13 and 14. I started selling drugs. I was getting shot at and shooting at people myself. I was in and out of Juvenile Court and 201 Poplar until I was 19 or 20. …”

Smallwood started a non-profit organization, Building Blocks Mentoring Program (BBMP), in 2009 to save young people from choosing the same path he chose. Local public schools are the primary setting for mentoring children to strengthen their social development, self-awareness and academic achievement.

Building Blocks Mentoring Program CEO Stephon Smallwood snaps a quick selfie of teen girls enjoying the mentoring experience. (Courtesy photo)

“Program participants have access to community resources and career-building opportunities to improve future prospects for success,” Smallwood said. “Another important component of our mentoring role is the intervention with students facing the threat of expulsion. We work to prevent a child being expelled. Expulsion means the loss of social development, nutritious meals and classroom work.”

Most impressive is the Building Lives Academy (BLA), which is affiliated with Community Christian College, a Memphis-based nationally accredited junior college program. Through this partnership, student-athletes have an opportunity to pursue higher education while enhancing their athletic development.

One of BBMP’s signature efforts is Project STAND, a Shelby County Schools Department of Alternative Schools’ college and career readiness program funded with a grant for students who have been involved in the justice system.

“We operate a food pantry at George Washington Carver College & Career Academy as a part of Project STAND to serve students and their families in the 38109 ZIP code,” said Smallwood. “We provide food to 14 schools in the area. I am especially proud of this effort because we not only serve students and their families in this community, but we also provide food for the senior citizen community.

“Having a food pantry inside a school serves as an excellent model of how a community can directly identify and reach those families who are in need of help.”

The food pantry is maintained through a partnership between BBMP and the Mid-South Food Bank. The effort is important because the largely impoverished area’s student population lives with stressful food insecurity. An estimated 51,000 children in Shelby County face hunger daily, according to the food bank officials.

Carver’s Healthy School Pantry operates out of the former ROTC building on the school’s campus. Kroger Stores are also huge participants with generous food donations. Food is distributed every Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m.

(For more information or to make a donation, call 901-416-6937.)

Some student perspectives…

What students learn and the life lessons they take away actually speak for themselves. This is what some had to say regarding Building Blocks Mentoring Program and how it changed their outlook on their future success:

“Whatever you do today will reflect tomorrow,” Jessika Anderson, senior, University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

“I want my mother to be proud of me. So I want to be a successful, young man that people can respect,” Martavious Smith, sophomore, White Station High School.

“Doing my best is always the only option,” Dylan Heaston, freshman, White Station High School.