Sophomore launches mentor program at Clarke Middle School
Mansur Buffins first stepped on to UGA's campus as a high school senior as part of the inaugural cohort of the Georgia African American Male Experience, a residential weekend program that focuses on leadership development and offers a glimpse into college life.
"That was my first time on a college campus," Buffins said. "I thought, 'This is pretty cool. This is what college looks like?' I mean, it actually looks like the movies."
When it came time to make his college decision, Buffins' friends warned him against choosing UGA.
"They would say, 'Why are you going to UGA? It's just a bunch of white students,' " he said. "I'm like, 'I'm just trying to go to college, and I heard UGA was a good one. I mean, I'm from Georgia.' "
Buffins' experience with GAAME helped paint a picture of the university that was different than the views of his friends. The UGA students who led the GAAME program told participants about programs like the UGA chapter of the NAACP, the Black Male Leadership Society and the Black Educational Support, which pairs an upperclassman mentor with a freshman mentee to ease the transition to campus.
"That's what attracted me," Buffins said. "Knowing there's a place on this campus for me. It relieved a bunch of the unnecessary stress. I knew I wasn't going to feel out of place."
Buffins, who is double-majoring in social studies education and African American studies, now is helping local students feel more connected to campus. As a sophomore, Buffins has launched a new mentor program that connects black male UGA students with their counterparts at Clarke Middle School.
"Working with those kids is the highlight of every week," he said. "It is very joyful for me."
The spark for the program came after Buffins was attending class one day with his mentee from the Clarke County Mentor Program.The pair observed several of the young black males sitting in the back of class and being removed from class for disruptive behavior. During that same day, Buffins passed a classroom filled with mostly white students and asked one of the students he was with about the class.
"Those are the smart students," the student told Buffins.
"At that point, I realized that these young men needed some encouragement," Buffins said. "I'm seeing little brothers down the street who look like they could use something that could empower and motivate them a little bit more."
So Buffins approached the Clarke Middle School administration with an idea about how best to reach the black male students—black male UGA student mentors.
"I'm a black male, and I'm a student at UGA," he said. "If you've made it to UGA, you're doing something right and you have some sort of advice to give someone younger who's trying to do that."
The school administrators confirmed that there was a need for black male mentors and embraced Buffins' idea. Not only did they encourage him to recruit black male UGA students into the Clarke County Mentor Program, but they also formally added a course to the school's after-school programs.
With the help of a colleague, Buffins successfully recruited eight UGA students to volunteer for the one-on-one mentoring component of the program and then got to work preparing for the after-school course.
Each Tuesday from 4-6 p.m., Buffins leads two one-hour sessions with seven boys. Some weeks, Buffins invites a guest speaker, usually a UGA faculty member or student. Other weeks, he and the boys simply discuss things that are on their minds.
"We have a good time," he said. "The program offers students a place to discuss topics they don't feel comfortable discussing anywhere else. They write in journals about serious issues, and we tackle some important stuff."
The middle schoolers aren't the only ones learning from the program. One discussion was particularly eye-opening for Buffins.
"One day, we took on the topic of incarceration and police brutality," he said, "and the kids started talking about their brothers, fathers and other family who were in jail. It wasn't just some national theme to discuss-for them, it was very real."
Buffins said that conversations like that lead him to encourage his peers at UGA to remember the reality behind some of the issues discussed in classes and forums and to realize that real-life examples are just across the street.
When asked about his goals for the new program, Buffins doesn't focus on growth in participant numbers or recognition, or even the program itself. His focus is on the boys.
"Five to seven years down the road, seeing the kids I've worked with doing well behaviorally, socially, academically, that's what I want to see," he said.
Buffins also has a vision for UGA's future, expressing the importance of continuing to grow the number of black male UGA students.
"Seeing other students on this campus who look like you, studying, talking to you, that is so important," he said. "If you don't see yourself somewhere, you're not going to aspire to go there."
Buffins knows well the struggle for some young black males to stay motivated, and the opinions their friends might have about choosing UGA. He hopes they will hear his message instead.
"I'm happy at UGA," he said. "People say, 'Don't go there because this and this,' but it's rumors. There are opportunities on this campus for you. You can have the good experience that I've been having. There's a place for you.
By Stan Jackson