MILLENNIALS WORK TO INCREASE LOCAL COLLEGE ATTAINMENT RATES

We often assume young men, fresh out of college, are focused on money and women. This is hardly the case for Jeremy Calhoun and Alton Cryer — Memphis natives who are busy ensuring more young people complete college.

Still in their twenties, these young men have already contributed more to the Memphis community than many folks twice their age. They founded Setting the Standard (STS) Enterprise, a nonprofit providing leadership and mentorship for teens and college students.

On April 13, they’re hosting a networking event for college students to meet Memphis leaders. Learn more at stsenterprise.org.

 Renee Malone, APR, Publisher of The Memphis 100

David Waters: Defiant pair fight low expectations with higher education

 The crowd mingles while at the "Bringing out the Leaders" event at the University of Memphis on Thursday night. The event is part of Alton Cryer (far left) and Jeremy Calhoun's (not pictured) efforts to help college students network with local government and business officials. (Andrea Morales/Special to the Commercial Appeal)

 The crowd mingles while at the "Bringing out the Leaders" event at the University of Memphis on Thursday night. The event is part of Alton Cryer (far left) and Jeremy Calhoun's (not pictured) efforts to help college students network with local government and business officials. (Andrea Morales/Special to the Commercial Appeal)

All this city needs is more defiant young men like Jeremy Calhoun and Alton Cryer.

Young men who defy the gravitational forces of their peers and neighborhood perils. Young men who defy society’s downward glances and expectations. Young men who defy the staggering odds stacked against them, their generation, their community.

“We want to change the city, change perceptions people have of young African-American men, defy stereotypes,” said Calhoun, the 25-year-old president and co-founder of STS Enterprise.

STS is a nonprofit organization they formed in 2012 while they were business management students at the University of Memphis.

STS is also an acronym for what has become their mission ever since: Setting the Standard.

“I can’t control the negative thoughts or perceptions of others,” said Cryer, STS’s 25-year-old vice president and co-founder. “I can defy the stereotype and set the standards for myself and others. I can be an exception.”

Calhoun and Cryer, who have known each other since their days at Ridgeway Middle School, were the exceptions as soon as they set foot on the University of Memphis campus.

One in 10 undergraduate students is an African-American man. One in 10 of those men will graduate in four years, and only 3 in 10 after six years.

The statistics are even more distressing nationally. African-American men account for about 4 percent of the total enrollment at four-year colleges. The percentage hasn’t changed in 40 years.

“That’s not just an African-American male problem, it’s a collective problem,” said Daphene R. McFerren, director of the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change at the U of M.

“Given the high percentage of African-American men in Memphis, if you don’t have these men prepared for 21st-century workforce, it’s not only bad for them. It’s bad for African-American families and white families and the entire community. We’re all connected.”

The institute is launching a new program this month to help the U of M’s African-American male students defy and improve the odds through mentoring, counseling and other forms of support.

The Hooks African American Male Initiative, funded by a FedEx grant, will be announced at the institute’s second annual gala Thursday. It will start with 21 of the 1,766 black male undergraduates enrolled this spring.

The initiative addresses one of the goals of President Obama’s 2014 “My Brother’s Keeper Community Challenge”: Ensuring all youth complete post-secondary education or training.

Calhoun and Cryer both graduated from high school in 2008, the year Obama was elected president. Like Obama, they’ve been defying odds and expectations all of their lives.

Calhoun’s father spent time in prison. He got kicked off his high school football team. “I was defiant then, but not in a constructive way,” he said.

Cryer comes from a broken home and was heading down a self-destructive path. “I was getting in a lot of fights, just trying to act tough. I didn’t want to look weak.”

Both discovered other ways of being tough and defiant by becoming first-generation college graduates.

Calhoun graduated magna cum laude in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in Management Information Systems. He’s working as an IT Specialist for International Paper.

Cryer graduated in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in Sports & Leisure Management. He’s working as a Youth Specialists for the City’s Office of Youth Services.

STS was the result of a startup project they did for the U of M’s Crews Center for Entrepreneurship.

“They had a good business model, but what was so impressive was their motivation,” said Kelly Penwell, the center’s former assistant director.

“They want to help others and give back and they just believe it’s the right thing to do. If we could harness that ...”

Calhoun and Cryer are trying. STS has 9 volunteer mentors working with 13 young men in grades 8-12. The program includes job shadowing, service projects (including regular visits to nursing homes), and networking with local political and business leaders.

“So many boys need help,” said Cryer. “We’re trying to get them to eliminate excuses and help them see they have choices,” Cryer said.

Recently, they were mentoring a troubled middle-school student.

“We took him out to eat and he asked us, ‘Who’s paying y’all to do this?’” Calhoun said. “I said, ‘No one’s paying us. We don’t need money to do this. You’re important.’”

In Memphis, nothing is more important.

Contact David Waters at waters@commercialappeal.com.

2nd Annual Bringing Out The Leaders: March 26

Two University of Memphis graduates started STS Enterprise Corporation two years ago to reshape Memphis.

Now, the second annual “Bringing out the Leaders” event, hosted by STS Enterprise, to bring together students and city leaders to communicate with each other will be held at 6:30 pm on March 26th, at the University Center River Room on the UofM campus.

Many guests will attend the event including Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell. All students from the University of Memphis, Christian Brothers University, Rhodes College, Lemoyne- Owens, and Southwest Community college are invited to attend.

The not-for-profit organization, STS Enterprise, was founded by UofM students Jeremy Calhoun who graduated in 2013 and Alton Cryer who graduated in 2014. Their company intends to build up college students and young people in the Memphis area.

Calhoun and Cryer responded to several questions:

C901: Why did you start STS Enterprise Corporation?

STS Enterprise: God literally spoke STS into existence. We have dedicated STS to him and we just want to make sure that we are good stewards and are managing the organization the way God want’s us too. STS was created a little over two years ago with a goal of making a positive impact in the lives of the youth here in Memphis and by emulating the change we wanted to see in our youth. As young leaders it is important that we give our young people something and someone to model themselves after, even after the camera is off and after we have clocked out of the office, they see a group of young that is walking the walk and talking the talk and having fun, being cool in the process. We simply want to be the “Spark that ignites the future” here in Memphis. We want to be that group that youth people can identify with and can see Setting the Standard as a way of life and an option for success in Life. We constantly hear people, friends, and family talk about how bad Memphis is or bring up what Memphis isn’t doing correctly and most of the time no one is doing anything about it. We decided that we didn’t want to just talk about some of the challenges, but that we wanted create solutions.

C901: What is the purpose/point of Bringing out the Leaders event?

STS Enterprise: We understand that networking with professionals and being connected with individuals who are currently working in the field being pursued by college students makes a huge impact on our college students. While you’re in college you hear friends and family as they send you off to network but never tell you how to present the opportunity for you to learn. We saw a need for our college students to get connected and we are seeking to meet that need. Bringing out the Leader does exactly that. Bringing out the Leaders is an event created to break barriers and open dialogue between college students and some of the city’s most prominent leaders. This event will not only serve as an opportunity to network, but to build long-term relationships and meet potential mentors. This event will serve as a bridge that connects our college students to some of Memphis’s top professionals and leaders.

C901: What are you doing to help Memphis?

STS Enterprise: We have four pillars that allow us to impact youth & college students here in the Memphis community.

  • Mentoring Program
    We understand that we have an obligation to expose our young people to the experience that we have been blessed to gain. Information changes situations and with the information we have gained we make it our duty to pour into the upcoming generation to continue the movement. The STS Mentoring Programs are designed to empower and motivate African-American men and women ages 12-18 in the Memphis community. We want to provide opportunities for our youth and teach them to exceed expectations, defy stereotypes, and create a mindset that is tenacious. This is the ONLY program in STS that is geared toward a specific demographic.
  • Community Outreach
    Understanding that one must empower to be empowered we made it our mission to give more than we received by spearheading and participating in several local community outreach events throughout the year. These volunteering efforts enable STS to give back to the Memphis community in a multitude of ways, plus it allows our youth, college students and other volunteers an opportunity to earn community service hours.
  • Bridging the Gap
    “Bridging the Gap” is a monthly community outreach event that unites college and high school students, as well as other local volunteers with the elderly. STS Enterprise has partnered with Wesley Senior Ministries and their Highland Meadows senior community to create an event that brings two very different generations together for a time of laughter and joy. Students spend approximately 2 hours with the residents participating in activities such as: reading, playing games (Board games, Bingo, Wii Bowling), talking, etc.
    The purpose of this event is to bring excitement and youthfulness to the senior community, while leaving each resident with a smile, a sense of love, and a feeling of appreciation. The experience is simply amazing both for the senior and the host of volunteers and community service hours are rewarded to participants as well.
  • Public Speaking
    This pillar allows us to motivate and empower youth and college students all over. This platform was started to vocalize the impact that we are looking to make and create an experience that can’t be matched. Our speaking styles exudes energy, passion, reliability and is so impactful that it will leave the students shouting our organizations motto:”WeDoThis”
  • STS Elite
    This is our initiative that focuses on directly on college students. We recently kick started our first chapter on the University of Memphis campus. Our goal is to provide them with the skills, resources, and network to make marketable and competitive post-graduation. With our college students, we conduct personal and professional development sessions, have speakers come to share insight on their careers, internships opportunities, provide mentors, and many more. We also give them an opportunity to develop themselves as leaders through speaking engagements and community service projects.

C901: What is STS Enterprise’s favorite part about Memphis?

STS Enterprise: Memphis is a small, big city; the opportunity to get involved and get connected is very realistic. You can see/feel your impact here in Memphis. Memphis is a city with a lot of potential and we are thankful that we have the opportunity to be a part of the change that will spark the future.

C901: Favorite place to go?

STS Enterprise: Our favorite place to go after work is Flemings for their happy hour menu! We enjoy several other places around Memphis but Flemings is one of our favorites. Another place we enjoy to go is Juvenile intervention Faith Based Follow-up (J.I.F.F.) which is located downtown in the old YMCA building. We enjoy talking with the young men and giving them a few words of encouragement and sometimes play basketball.

C901: Favorite thing to do?

STS Enterprise: Motivate and talk to youth and College Students. It’s a priceless feeling having the ability to share experiences, failures, successes, and knowledge that enable someone to use those things as a tool to empower themselves and others around them. There is NOTHING like it.

Garrett Pilgrim | Choose901

 

 

Doing good: STS Enterprise

Created in 2012, STS Enterprise is a mentoring program for young Memphis men. But rather than focusing solely on professional development or educational achievement, STS mentors work to help the mentees in all areas of life, from community outreach to public speaking.

The inspiration for the all-volunteer organization is simple: to empower and motivate youth to strive for excellence. And Co-founder Alton Cryer is, as the organzation's title suggests, "Setting the Standard" for excellence. He launched STS with Jeremy Calhoun in 2012 while still a full-time student. His long list of accomplishments reveals his personal quest for excellence, but Cryer wasn't willing to stop at just improving his own life for the better.

Mentoring young African American boys across the city remains the focal point for STS, and Cryer believes all that many young men need is a positive influence in order to confidently become leaders in their communities, start their own businesses and achieve their goals. "It's not programs that change people, it's people that change people," Cryer says. "Everything that we want to do, we want to be great at it. STS is not just an organization, it is a lifestyle."

For STS, mentoring doesn't stop in the classroom. The program actively involves the youth in their own communities. "The mentoring program is our main focus, and through our community outreach we are able to partner with other local organizations and give back to the community," he continues.

STS takes kids on college visits and to attend local events like the Ole Miss spring football game or a Grizzlies game at FedEx Forum. "The reason is to help them expand their minds and not see only what their neighborhoods can show them," he says. "They will see things on a bigger scale."

Being young has never been a barrier for Cryer, 24. In fact, he sees his age as an asset. "Our key element is the fact that we are young, and we use our age as a way to relate to the young people," he says. The eight-person STS volunteer staff consists solely of college students and recent college graduates.

Cryer himself will graduate in August from the University of Memphis with a major in sports and leisure management and a minor in communication, and he plans to seek his master's degree in non-profit administration.

The University of Memphis' entrepreneurship program helped STS pay for its charter and apply for non-profit status, which is in the process of being approved now. In the future Cryer hopes to possibly add a mentoring program for young women.
 
STS has been involved with Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell Jr.'s annual golf tournament for the past couple of years, and STS also puts on its own volunteer event, called "Bridging the Gap," on the fourth Saturday of every month. "With our monthly event, we are trying to bridge the gap between senior citizens and young people," says Cryer, who works for the City of Memphis' ambassador program and is a graduate of Leadership Memphis.

STS recently teamed up with the Lipscomb & Pitts Breakfast Club to work with Samaritan's Feet. "They wash the feet of young inner city children and put new shoes and socks on their feet," Cryer says.

The newest project for STS is called "Memphis Pride," a community clean-up effort. "We started with the 38114 zip code, and we not only focus on cleaning up the area but also on development. We will plant flowers, cut the grass and get the community involved in doing upkeep on other projects," explains Cryer, a recipient of the Distinguished Service Award from the University of Memphis and the Harold Little Community Service Award from the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.
 
Cryer has also been on the other side of the mentor/mentee relationship. For his own success, he credits mentors who helped him along the way. "I have a group of mentors who stood by me and molded me as a young man," he says. "Now I can help others and guide them on a whole new path."

MICHAEL WADDELL | WEDNESDAY, JUNE 18, 2014