Samuel Armstrong speaks to the students at Ballou High Senior High School as part of the Education and Mentorship Initiative with the Mu Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)
Samuel Armstrong speaks to the students at Ballou High Senior High School as part of the Education and Mentorship Initiative with the Mu Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha. (Robert R. Roberts/The Washington Informer)

One of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity’s most renowned members set the tone for a mentorship program conducted at Ballou Senior High School in Washington, D.C. 

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down at the table of brotherhood,” said the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the 1963 March on Washington.  

Students listened to excerpts from the famous Alpha as part of the Education and Mentorship Initiative with Alpha Phi Alpha’s Mu Lambda Chapter.  

Program Overview

There are two components of the Alpha Education and Mentorship Initiative. 

Project Alpha is an anti-teen pregnancy program designed to teach young men how to be responsible.  Brother James Israel, a teacher at Hart Middle School, manages the program there.  

The Henry Arthur Callis Academy focuses on young men at Ballou.  Student participants engage in monthly courses and structured activities that aim to increase their capacity to be more successful during their first year in college.  Academy courses and activities are designed to improve organization and study skills, critical thinking and problem-solving ability, presentation and public speaking skills, and capacity to manage college life. 

Students at Ballou and Hart receive community credits for attending the sessions and both programs have been approved by District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). 

“This program gives us the opportunity to pour into young men knowledge of different topics each month that will benefit them for the rest of their lives,” said Sean Perkins, a teacher at Ballou and Chairman of the Mu Lambda Education Committee. “[It] gives me great joy that we are educating the whole child for the future.” 

The program was launched in 2016, halted during the COVID-19 global pandemic, and resumed last December. 

Mu Lambda operates both programs at Ballou and Hart with a core belief that all students deserve a quality educational experience that enriches both their academic, social, and cultural experiences. 

As Brother Dr. King once said, “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively, and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of a true education.” 

Ballou Student Reflections 

Each month, the program meetings have a theme: December was time management, study skills and goal setting and for Jan. 24, eight days after marking the King federal holiday, the mentors and mentees discussed oral communications.

The discussion was led by Brother Samuel Armstrong, who always opens the sessions by having the young men play the game Rock, Paper, Scissors as an icebreaker.  

The seven boys in attendance, who ranged from grades 9 through 12, were spellbound while watching the oratory skills of the 34-year-old Dr. King, who pledged Alpha at Boston University in 1952.  

While most of the students had seen or heard parts of the historic speech, some had not. 

Tenth-grader James Hill reflected on the “I Have A Dream” speech: “He fought very hard and said a lot of powerful things. He spoke on equality and today we still don’t really get equality one hundred percent… it’s still not OK that we don’t have it.” 

“I am half and half on going to college,” said sophomore Travis Jourden, when asked about his plans after graduation. “I liked the speech by Martin Luther King and how he talked about slaves and the sons of slave owners and how we should be treated. He also taught me how to elevate my speech when speaking in public.”

Durell Abjerry, a freshman, said he enjoys the mentorship program and that it’s “cool.”  

“It teaches me a lot about history and stuff I didn’t know,” he said, before referencing the famous speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. “Dr. King’s speech was really cool. I really hadn’t heard it in a minute, but seeing it refreshed my memory.” 

When asked about his favorite part of Dr. King’s speech, Abjerry responded “The Free at last, free at last part. We all still aren’t free now.”  

Of particular interest to the students was hearing from Washington Informer photographer Robert Roberts, who shared his memories of attending the speech as an 11-year-old. 

Each session ends with pizza, heart-to-heart conversations about what is going on in the students’ lives both in school and at home, and telephone numbers and emails are always exchanged.

Austin Cooper photo

Austin R. Cooper Jr.

Austin R. Cooper, Jr., serves as the President of Cooper Strategic Affairs, Inc. The firm provides legislative, political and communications counsel in Washington, D.C., for governmental, nonprofit and...

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1 Comment

  1. This is awesome to see many of our Alpha Men committed to “Justice and Equality of All Lives”. We have to maintain our stands on being leaders to sustain hope in those coming under us…

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