Happy Tuesday #Jontourage,..
Welcome back to the “Classy Gent Chronicles”, where staying classy is the only way to be. Today for the first time, I am happy to announce a new series called “Classy Connections”, where I will be interviewing some amazing entrepreneurs. Today for our first spotlight, meet Jermaine Johnson. He is the Founder of Reality Check Mentoring, Inc., a community activist, mentor, and an amazing father. Without any further ado, let’s jump right into it.
Jonathan: Tell us a little about yourself.
Jermaine: My name is Jermaine N. Johnson and I am a native of Prince George’s County, a proud father, sports fan, fitness addict, and a mentor to many others. I am the CEO and Founder of Reality Check Mentoring Incorporated, a 501(c)(3) Nonprofit organization dedicated to developing the minds of young males of color, ages 10-17, through mentoring focused on character development and education geared toward life skills, social and cultural awareness, conflict resolution, and critical thinking. I studied management and business in college ultimately earning a Master of Science in Management with a focus in Project Management. In addition to my nonprofit, I work as an IT Business Analyst on the Grants Development team under the Systems Technology Division for the DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education.
Jonathan: How did your entrepreneurial journey begin?
Jermaine: It's funny actually because back in high school at one point my mom told me that I should pursue a career as a teacher. I was totally against that and went to school for business but you'll see why it's funny in a bit. The first incident that sparked this journey occurred when I was working as a teacher for an after school enrichment program at an elementary school. I had just arrived to work after buying my first new car. As I was walking into the building I ran into one of the students I used to teach. He says, "Mr. Johnson that's your car?" I reply, "Yes." he then proceeds to say "You sold drugs to get that car?" I was honestly stuck that he said that to me. It might sound cliche but it hit me that some of our young males are not too far removed from that being their reality. That stuck with me. At the same time while working at the elementary school I was also working at a high school in Prince George's County as a Special Education assistant. About a few days after the aforementioned incident was when the second spark occurred. I was sitting in a classroom where students were asked to present a project on an occupation of their choice and I watched young males choose jobs such as cashier at a fast-food restaurant and to be a greeter at Walmart. It saddened me to hear them selling themselves short and at the same time it frustrated me that the teachers weren't pushing them to strive for better and in my opinion, it was letting them get by just because they are labeled "Special Ed". These two incidents are what gave me the spark to say to myself, "It's time for me to be a part of the solution." These young males need guidance, confidence, a reality check because I truly believe that any person can and will become what they set out to be if given the proper resources and environment to do so.
Jonathan: How does your brand stand out compared to others in your industry?
Jermaine: My org's name is Reality Check Mentoring, Inc. My brand stands out compared to others in my industry because I feel we're doing just that, giving reality checks to not only our young males in the program but to their parents as well. We focus on character development and education geared toward life skills, social and cultural awareness, conflict resolution, and critical thinking. And we're big on exposure! Exposing our males to different topics and careers to get them to think outside the box. Our mentoring program uses a community-based approach meaning we have supportive adults, a commitment to appropriate goals and try to build a mutually trusting relationship between the mentor and mentee. This is what I refer to as "All In". We, the mentors, mentees, and parents must be all in with the development of our boys in order to encourage personal growth and create valuable assets to society. We also stand out because we accept males of color from all walks of life. Where some programs may only focus on at-risk youth, my program contains your so-called at-risk youth along the young male that has straight A's, both parents at home, and barely gets in trouble. I felt this was important because this allows them to learn from one another and interact with peers that make have different lifestyles than them but find they're able to find common ground with one another and connect. I also felt this was important because society at large still views mentoring programs for those who are in trouble or headed down the wrong path. Our brand wants to show that the focus needs to go from reaction to prevention.
Jonathan: A lot of people love the concept of mentoring and the title of “mentor” but sometimes, they are not doing the job effectively. What is your advice to people who want to be mentors?
Jermaine: First and foremost this work requires being selfless, genuine, and transparent. If you want to be a mentor just for the title or for accolades, this isn't for you. Be willing to continuously learn as well because a mentor is not someone who knows everything. And understand that there is not a one size fits all approach when mentoring.
Jonathan: Due to lack of awareness, fear, or being busy, many teens/young adults do not have mentors at all. Why do you believe that people (especially young adults) should find mentors?
Jermaine: Well there's formal and informal mentoring. Formal is where one attends a program or meets with a mentor face to face over a long period of time. Similar to my program. Then we have informal where it's more natural. For example a family member, friend, teacher, or coach. I believe people, especially young adults, should find mentors because we all need someone we can learn from. We all need someone to steer us right when we may be on the path to go left. We all need someone to challenge us and hold us accountable. We all need someone we can use as an emotional outlet. These are all things that mentors do. We use the term mentor a lot like a formal title but when you think about it everyone serves as a mentor at some point in their life.
Jonathan: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Jermaine: In 5 years, raising my beautiful 16-year-old daughter (she's 10 now and will be 11 soon). Career-wise I see myself along with my organization partnering with the PG County School system and DC schools to implement Reality Check Mentoring program as a restorative practice. I would also like to be in the beginning stages of a career development learning software that I would like to create for students in Special Education at the high school level that will help them find a career fit for them regardless of whatever emotional barriers or learning disabilities they may face. I truly believe if you provide anyone with the tools and resources to learn something, they will do just that.
Jonathan: Who/What do you look to for inspiration?
Jermaine: The smiles on my boys' faces. The times they take something we covered in a session and I hear later that they actually applied it to their everyday life. The other change agents in the community doing the same work as me giving their all to make a positive impact. People I know who I may not be close to randomly sending me a message telling me that a post I made or quote I sent them really changed their day or made them think. My morning devotionals that I read daily as well as other books that I read.
Jonathan: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those looking to breakthrough in your industry?
Jermaine: My advice to others would be to find your purpose! Put your all into whatever you do and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Surround yourself with people that are going to support you, encourage you, and challenge you to be better. When you think about your life, are you trying not to lose or are you trying to win?! If you're looking to become an entrepreneur and enter the nonprofit industry, be ready for long days and nights. Be ready to do a lot of research. Be ready to encounter those that won't believe in you and your mission. Be strategic when choosing your team. Be ready to have those hard conversations. Be ready to fail and learn from mistakes. And last but not least be ready to start! Whatever it is you want to do, just start! You can write down goals every day all day but the action is what brings results. Everything doesn't have to be and will not be perfect in the beginning.
Jonathan: Outside of your work, what are your other hobbies/passions?
Jermaine: Outside of work I love spending time with my daughter, lifting weights and exercising, playing the drums, and just kicking it with friends and family.
Jonathan: Do you have any upcoming projects?
Jermaine: Currently my team and I are at the halfway mark in our 8-week winter mentoring program. We have 4 sessions left so planning to finish strong.
Jonathan: How can the #Jontourage/followers stay in touch with you?
Jermaine: You can follow me on Instagram. Personal account: Maine8990 Business account: Realitycheckmentoringinc. Facebook. Personal account: Jermaine AkirrehDad Johnson Business account: Reality Check Mentoring, Inc.
Moral of the story: The world is so much bigger than us. We must work hard because behind the next generation of future doctors, lawyers, teachers, business owners, and change agents. Thank you, Jermaine, for being an inspiration to everyone you come in contact with. Remember, in order to live out your dreams, you have to think it, feel it, live it! Until next time, stay classy...
For more Classy Gent Chronicles blog post, be sure to visit https://www.authorjon.com/blog
Jonathan C. Harris is no stranger to leadership, hard work, or success. At the age of ten years old, he earned the right to be a guest weatherman for a day on Fox 5 DC News. He has already received over 100 honors and awards including Forty Under 40 for Prince George’s County, MD, TEDx Talk speaker, American College Personnel Association (ACPA) Outstanding Men’s Program, high school Valedictorian and the Kiwanis Club Citizenship Award. Raised in Fort Washington, Maryland, he has served in leadership positions his entire life, from being the manager of the school store in elementary school to the president of the Homelessness Awareness Club in middle school to the president of the National Honor Society in high school.