By Caitlin Mack ’12 (T5)
Last year, Oladoyin Oladeru ’13 mentored middle school students about the benefits of nonviolence during in-school suspension hours and decided he wanted to create an after school program of a similar nature. With help from the M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence and fellow University of Rochester undergraduates, Oladeru established the Young Men at Peace program last fall. The program allows 6th, 7th, and 8th grade male students at Dr. Charles Lunsford School #19 the unique opportunity to explore a wide range of important issues related to nonviolence.
Oladeru is one of five students chosen to be a 2012-20130 Meliora Leader, a new community service initiative through the Rochester Center for Community Leadership (RCCL). Meliora Leaders create individualized service projects, allowing them to exercise intensive leadership in the Rochester community for an extended period of time. The program benefits organizations and individuals in need while providing a substantial learning experience for the students involved.
The topics addressed in Young Men at Peace are meant to inform the middle schoolers about the power of nonviolent self-transformation to overcome physical and mental obstacles. This includes awareness of positive lifestyle choices and social interactions, how to become better advocates against community and school violence, and learning about social justice heroes like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi.
In addition to Oladeru, other Young Men at Peace undergraduate mentors include Milan Byrdwell ’14, Reginald Hooks ’15, Shaquill McCullers ’14, Michael Mobarak ’15, Carl Parker ’13, and Taurean Parker ’13. All six undergraduates, whom Oladeru gathered before the start of the program last fall, serve as a source of inspiration for the students.
“We want to make the dream of obtaining a college education more attainable by showing them young men from the U of R who are living proof,” says Oladeru.
George Payne, who works at the Gandhi Institute as a Peace and Justice Educator and helps oversee the program, applauds Oladeru’s “vision and dedication,” for allowing the students involved to form “meaningful bonds with mentors in college who know about their challenges and believe in their potential.” Echoing Payne’s praise is Principal Eva Thomas, who has called the Young Men at Peace program a “blessing” to her school.
Oladeru exercises his own life experiences while serving as a nonviolence ambassador to the young males of School # 19. Oladeru moved from Lagos, Nigeria to the United States when he was nine years old and lived in the Bronx until college. Around the age of the students he now mentors, Oladeru was bullied for being foreign, African, and studious. A personal “turning point” that alerted him to the importance of nonviolence occurred in 6th grade when his friend got shot on his way home after school.
“Mentorship is really important, especially at a young age,” says Oladeru. “I remember giving into peer pressure when I came to this country and I think this is an issue most prevalent with young males at that age. It’s not enough to have two parents at home because they can’t relate and there’s only so much they can understand.”
Oladeru, who is set to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in epidemiology this May, is a McNair Scholar, a Ronald McDonald scholar, a Gilman Scholar, and a Gates Millennium Scholar. In addition to being a Meliora Leader, he works at Carlson Library and is a Resident Advisor. He hopes to get a master’s and doctoral degree in epidemiology and conduct population-based research in cardiovascular disease.
Oladeru has high hopes for the future of the program because the young male participants have noticeably progressed as a result of the efforts of Oladeru, his fellow UR mentors, and the Gandhi Institute. The number of attendees has been steadily increasing and Oladeru aims for a total of 15 boys that come on a regular basis. He also hopes to plan field trips to the U of R campus, Foodlink, and Darien Lake to teach them about rules in different social settings and inspire them to be respectful no matter where you are.
“To see someone with a similar background having made it goes a long way,” says Oladeru. “The greatest joy for me is that I got people interested in volunteering who really care. We go back every week and it makes a difference.”
This article is part two of a series that features the Meliora Leaders of 2012-2013. Undergraduates interested in participating in the program should look for information on the RCCL page in the coming months. Information about the program can be found on the RCCL page at http://rochester.edu/college/rccl/meliora.html.
In the photos: Photo 1: Oladoyin Oladeru with one of the young men in his program. Photo 2: Oladoyin Oladeru and a group of University of Rochester undergraduate mentors teach male students from Dr. Charles Lunsford School #19 about the benefits of nonviolence.