Geremy Gray is growing up in a world of women.
His father died when Geremy was young, and his mother, Gloria Simmons, noticed it was taking a toll.
When Geremy hit sixth grade this year, Simmons began to see a yearning and didn’t want her son’s story to end like many other boys navigating life without a positive male influence.
“He was just craving that bond bad,” Simmons said. “Somebody to play ball with, to talk to. He had no male role models. We’re talking about none. So we needed to do something.”
Both their lives changed when a guidance counselor at Murphey Middle School tipped Simmons off about a mentoring group created in 2007 by a group of Alpha Mu Boule fraternity members to reach at-risk black boys.
The program, Project BBUILD (Boule Brothers Uplifting, Influencing, Leading and Developing), mentors and tutors middle school boys every Saturday and gives them a sense of family and support.
Some of the boys come from single-parent homes, are being raised by a grandparent or are flirting with the idea of drugs or crime – but not all. Others have supportive mothers and fathers and succeed academically. These families are involved with BBUILD to give their sons other benefits the program offers, a chance to meet successful doctors, lawyers and scientists, and take field trips outside of Augusta meant to build character.
“Even though our son has two parents, I think you still need a mentor outside of the home,” said Chenitta Dallas, whose son is in his first year of the program. “We wanted him to get along with others and be under someone else’s wing.”
BBUILD Chairperson Ronald Brown Sr. said the program tries to induct students while they are in sixth grade. After three years in the program, the boys celebrate with a graduation ceremony and move on to a less-involved mentoring phase.
In high school, a mentor meets with each boy at least twice a year and helps advise academically and personally. In May, BBUILD, through its partnership with the Ike and Justine Washington Foundation, awarded four boys from the original 2007 class scholarships to attend college, a goal Brown said he sets for each student.
“Our position is every boy is at risk,” Brown said. “We basically want to approach at-risk boys and help them to improve their lives.”
The group of about 35 boys meets every Saturday from September to May at the Boys and Girls Club community center in Dogwood Terrace.
Each session follows the same schedule, starting out with a prayer, a guest speaker for the mentoring session, two classes of academic tutoring and a break for lunch.
During mentoring, no conversation is off limits.
“Sex, drugs, anger management, homework, careers,” said Brown, a full-time gastroenterologist. “We cover all topics.”
The boys hear from speakers, mostly black men, ranging from archeologists, architects, surgeons, oceanographers and lawyers. They attend about 10 outings a year and have taken fishing trips, visits to museums and have traveled to Atlanta to meet lawmakers.
The students also participate in a banking program in partnership with Capital City Bank, where they learn how to save money and budget bank accounts. The Boule members also hold a formal dinner at The Pinnacle Club, where the students dress in tuxedos and learn to socialize in a formal setting.
James Crawford, the chairman of the Washington Foundation and Boule member, said he has seen boys change in ways that make them want to succeed for their mentors and grow up to be like the successful men who surround them.
“These kids look forward to the sessions every week,” Crawford said. “Many times they’re going to places that they normally wouldn’t be able to see for various reasons.”
Crawford said he has seen boys come in painfully shy and graduate being able to speak in front of crowds. Others come in several grade levels behind in math or reading and leave as A students.
Although 40 students a year is an ideal size for the group, Crawford said he hopes donations to the Washington Foundation will flourish so BBUILD can offer scholarships to more boys to further their academic careers in college.
It costs about $950 per student a year to participate in BBUILD, and the Washington Foundation is able to step in so there is no cost to the families.
Baron Pack said he enrolled his grandson in the program last year when he saw the boy’s grades at Tutt Middle School slip to F’s.
He told me “I don’t want the other kids to think I’m a smarty,” Pack said.
But being surrounded by successful men and having a mentor to call on the phone or spend a Saturday with, Pack said his grandson has transformed. His relationship with his mother is less defiant, there is no more sleeping in class and his grades have skyrocketed.
It’s a situation Pack said he wished more young boys had a chance to see.
“He now sees he can achieve whatever he wants to, and that there’s nothing wrong with doing that,” Pack said. “He’s finding his way.”