Members of a local fraternity aren't sitting around waiting for academic achievement to improve among the city's African-American boys.
Members of the historically black fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi want to help the change happen.
In a ceremony designed to make an impression — complete with an oversized check for more than $850 and speeches by Omaha's mayor and Nebraska's first lady — the local Alpha Eta chapter and its alumni chapter formally adopted Kellom Elementary.
The partnership between the fraternity and the school at 24th and Paul Streets will include all 400 of the school's students. But student chapter president Jamal Jackson said that the 30 members of the fraternity plan to specifically mentor the school's fifth- and sixth-grade boys.
“Essentially, we want to prepare them to be young men,” said Jackson, 22. “They will be aware of the different traps they can fall into. We want to help them build a strong foundation so they'll make the right choice.”
Jackson said parents and guardians will be invited to several activities, and he expects fraternity members will get to know the boys and their families.
Kappa Alpha Psi members say they recognize the importance of positive male role models for boys and want to help them succeed in school. Alumni president Victor Beanum said the group is focusing on the fifth and sixth grades because that's a crucial time in the development of young boys.
“That's when they start transitioning into who they're going to be,” Beanum said.
The ultimate goal, he said, is to follow the boys through high school and beyond. All 14 of the senior boys in the fraternity's high school mentoring program, called Kappa League, graduated last spring.
“We stay with them,” Beanum said.
The fraternity is open to men of all races. Members of the Omaha alumni group come from colleges and universities from across the country.
Student members attend Creighton University, the University of Nebraska at Omaha and Bellevue University. The fraternity may best be known in Omaha for hosting the annual Easter egg hunt at Elmwood Park that draws hundreds of children.
Dennis Pool, assistant superintendent for the Omaha Public Schools, told the Kellom students to look up to the fraternity members.
“They are models for us and what we should do in the community,” he said. “These men stand for good things. Have that be your model, and there will be some very great things for you.”
Fraternity members include Jackson, who is working toward both a law degree and a master's degree in business administration at Creighton, and Justin Wayne, a member of the Learning Community Coordinating Council who is a lawyer for Union Pacific Railroad.
“Make sure you know, when you grow up, you can be whatever you want,” Wayne told the students, wearing the same red fraternity blazer as the more than 20 other men in the gymnasium.
Kellom Principal Eric Nelson said the partnership could help boys, in particular, stay more focused on their academic work and see that it's a positive thing to want to go to college.
“We really need that for our boys,” he said. “To have a male is huge, especially one from college. It shows it is possible to get there.”
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