By MeLinda Schnyder
Mentoring works. That’s the basic principle behind Real Men, Real Heroes, a nonprofit that started in Wichita in 2008 as a program to introduce African-American youth who lack positive male influences to real men in their community who are everyday heroes.
Sherdeill Breathett, who works in Sedgwick County’s economic development department, was one of the first to get involved with the project that was initially funded by Wichita philanthropist Barry Downing. Breathett grew up in Chicago without a consistent father figure until a high school classmate’s father mentored him and helped him land a scholarship to play football at the University of Oklahoma in the early 1980s.
Breathett became a mentor in 1991 with Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Sedgwick County and is a co-founder of Real Men, Real Heroes, for which he currently serves as board president.
“I’m a strong believer that the best investment we can make in life is sharing life with someone who is less fortunate than ourselves,” he said. “We have to do more than sit on the sideline making comments about the condition of our community and get in the game and make a real difference.”
Real Men, Real Heroes is producing real results, Breathett said. “It’s more than a feel-good story, we can see the difference in a tangible way and it shows in the classroom and in the community,” he said. “Our high school participants have a 100 percent graduation rate and go on to college and/or trade school. We’re raising leaders!”
Other communities are modeling mentoring programs after Wichita’s Real Men, Real Heroes. Garden City created Real Men, Real Leaders for Hispanic youth, and Breathett recently met with community organizers in Shreveport, Louisiana.
VIP: What is the mission of RMRH?
SB: Many of our children are growing up without strong male leadership, and many times none that’s consistently positive. We hope to change that narrative by leading them in a structured path that’s H = honorable, E = exemplary, R = responsible and O = optimistic.
VIP: How does RMRH do that?
SB: Annually, we impact over 5,000 youth via in-school group mentoring, assemblies and the like. Our weekly Monday gatherings at our base location – Chester Lewis Academy at 1847 N. Chautauqua – average roughly 50-plus. With the exception of one part-time employee, we’re all volunteers. We have 40 mentors and a target of adding 10 a year for the next five years to provide a strong base for future growth and stability.
VIP: Tell us about your programs.
SB: Our programs include Future Heroes, weekly mentoring for third- through 12th-grade boys, and Teen Heroes, high school seniors who serve as role models to younger kids. With Future Heroes, we track quarterly grade reports, behavior conduct as it relates to respect factors at home, school and in the general public, and dress – no sagging pants or shirts untucked. Our Teen Heroes model ideal student conduct, grades and they share often at school assemblies. Each year we nominate 10 junior students, five girls and five boys from diverse ethnic backgrounds who are students of USD 259, to serve their senior year. We provide them scholarships upon graduation to be used toward their education. Through our interactions, we work to provide college/trade school exposure, as well as spending time working on projects related to literacy and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields.
VIP: What results are you seeing?
SB: A large portion of the youth we serve come from a home with a single parent, primarily a mother. We have joined on several occasions at parent/teacher conferences and the results have been good. Grades have improved and so have attitudes.
This year we witnessed our first Future Hero nominated and serving as a Teen Hero.That’s a win from our vantage point. This individual was struggling academically. Buddy Shannon of our group assembled a few of us heroes to meet with him, to encourage him utilizing direct intervention, care and great concern with his mom nearby. Well, it worked and he’s a shining star! I’m confident he’ll aspire to greatness in whatever career field he decides upon.
VIP: If someone knows of a child who would benefit from RMRH, how can they help get the child involved with RMRH?
SB: Contact our office by calling 316-973-0544 or visit realmenrealheroes.org.
VIP: How does someone become a hero?
SB: It requires two heroes to nominate a person. Thorough background checks are done and we have a one-year candidacy process to ensure it’s a good fit for everyone.
VIP: How is the organization funded?
SB: We’re a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit tax-exempt youth-mentoring organization, so we solicit funding from the general public, foundations, etc. Our 10-member board supports our cause annually with a minimum contribution of $250 per member.
VIP: How can readers support RMRH?
SB: Spread the word, consider joining us, send tax deductible donations via realmenrealheroes.org or by mail: 1847 N. Chautauqua, Wichita, Kansas 67214. Our annual fundraising event is 6 to 8 p.m. on July 11 at the Wichita Marriott and our keynote speaker that night will be astronaut Guy Bluford, the first African-American to venture into outer space.