MALCOM RAWLS | THE DAILY MEMPHIAN

As an East High School student almost 20 years ago, I can recall how much I enjoyed helping friends and classmates work through their senior projects, finals prep and essays.

I felt such joy in seeing others, whom I connected with during the process, succeed while furthering my academic skills at the same time. I did not realize then that this was considered mentorship.

Role modeling and mentorship are universally rooted in a relationship, whether they are tied to a particular area of focus or industry or environment. I believe the power of relationships is the pulse of success in our communities and, especially, in our youth.

As a senior in 2005, my journey with Peer Power began. Mr. (Charles) McVean, chairman and CEO of McVean Trading & Investments, approached me to ask if I’d like to be employed by a new organization to continue tutoring my East High School peers.

The choice was simple. Fifteen years later, the choice to represent Peer Power as chief operating officer couldn’t be clearer.

Our nonprofit Peer Power Foundation recruits and trains University of Memphis students at the on-campus Peer Power Institute to tutor and mentor high school students in Shelby County Schools classrooms.

During my work for Peer Power while a University of Memphis student and since then, full-time as a program director at schools including Ridgeway, East, Northside, Manassas and Whitehaven high schools, and Lester Preparatory School, my conversations with parents or relatives of students stick with me. They thank me and acknowledge I’ve made a difference in their child’s life. They credit Peer Power for pushing their child to really apply themselves and see school and life differently.

This past winter break, we learned that a Peer Power senior’s family lost everything in a tragic house fire. We immediately reached out to our partnering school, Ridgeway High School, to create a donation pool to get the family back on their feet.

I then became focused on fostering a new mindset for this scholar. She was on the verge of dropping out to aid her family. She was just one step from leaving it all behind. But now, she has been named homecoming queen. She has been accepted to the University of Memphis. We have been working on increasing her ACT score in order to gain more scholarships. And further, we have offered her a job as a Peer Power success coach.

We potentially changed the trajectory of an entire family’s future by impacting this young woman’s decision to view college as a vehicle for long-term success. This is why Peer Power exists. This is why I do what I do.

I now spend a majority of my time instructing and overseeing success coaches, our employed University of Memphis students who are placed daily in Shelby County Schools classrooms to support teachers and students alike. I remind them of the power of role modeling and relationship-building as a daily responsibility.

We are making a difference in individuals’ lives by identifying their talents, recognizing their strengths, and putting them in a position to thrive and grow. Peer Power did that for me. And I’m committed to continuing that work this year.

With the odds and barriers we are hitting head-on, the need to maintain and cultivate relationships is at its greatest. Whether virtual or on-screen, in the classroom or from our homes, we are rising to the challenge.