GRAND RAPIDS (WZZM) -- WZZM 13 is acknowledging Black History Month by recognizing people making a difference in their communities. One group of men are doing that by helping children and teens become college graduates.
"You have to be connected to the community. You have to be connected to the youth. The bottom line is you have to be relevant and you have to be real," said Joseph Lee, a member of the Grand Rapids Alumni chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc.
The fraternity was founded 101 years ago for African-American men excelling in college and it's a path, the Kappa men are working to put mostly "at-risk" teens on.
Sean Huddleston, Polemarch of the chapter, says dating back to 1922, Kappa Alpha Psi has placed an added emphasis on working with youth. Through the fraternity's Guide Right and Kappa League programs, they provide mentoring and activities to encouraging kids to set goals in life and stick to them.
"Our mission is to try and help as many youth as possible and make a difference in the community," said fraternity member Michael Brown. "We just want them to be good men. This is not a complicated situation."
"We really want to develop a college-going culture among our youth, but if college is not their final destination then we certainly want to equip them with the tools to be able to succeed in whatever," Huddleston added.
They accomplish that with what could be described as relatively simple things, like helping out during a study session, getting them involved in athletics or practicing a new step routine.
"They don't realize it but, through stepping, they are learning to work together with themselves, to be dedicated, motivated and prepared to be able to perform," said Brown.
They may be small things, but certainly are making a huge impact.
"Kids who are usually considering gangs or some negative things are able to find what their niche is," Lee said.
The young men are required to have good grades in school, perform community service, and be leaders among their peers. Many get their biggest inspiration and encouragement from going on college tours for the first time.
"Many times their parents haven't gone to college or their grandparents haven't gone to college, so they don't know it is possible. So the simple fact that they are on the campus they now see somebody that looks like them," said Lee.
A successful business man and youth counselor, Lee says he shares his own stories of coming from an at-risk environment and sees himself in so many of his kids.
"Very much so, everyday and what I am really proud of is when they can see themselves in me," he said.
Huddleston they don't track numbers related to the programs success at helping youth, but know they are making a difference.
"Our evidence comes in seeing the improvement of college graduation rates. Most importantly, I think our evidence is built in how we see the improvement of our community with reduced crime rates and children that are making better decisions. That is really our evidence," he said.
The fraternity formerly mentored high school kids from the 9th grade up. But now, has expanded it to include kids all the way down to the 6th grade.
"So now we an get them earlier and that is important. We want to get them as early as possible so we can get some behavior modification," said Brown. "We go to the area high schools. We got to the middle schools. We go there and do presentations."
At the end of the month, those mentees in the Kappa League Program, will visit classes at Burton Middle School to tell other kids how the program has helped them.
"In these trying times these young men, and even females, but mostly young men really need a role model," said Brown.
And in an age when the term "role model" is often used way too loosely, he members of Kappa Alpha Psi are using "it" do define their life's mission.
"For someone to call you years later and say you changed my life. it moves you. I'm paid in full," said Brown.