The League Paves Pathways of Possibilities for Local Youth
Markel Hardman was not planning to go to college. Kanye Parham was falling behind in his studies and feeling stressed about his future. Neither felt they had outlets to express their fears and frustrations.
This changed for them when The League—a mentorship program rooted in Chico State’s Cross-Cultural Leadership Center (CCLC)—visited their school, Fair View High, connecting them with mentors who helped the young men see their potential. Created through a partnership between CCLC, Chico State’s Men of CHICO and Women of Excellence student-focused programs, and the Chico Unified School District, The League empowers local high school students who come from historically marginalized backgrounds to see their potential and pursue higher education while giving current Chico State students an opportunity to give back to communities similar to their own.
By meeting regularly in community with others, they hope to help students work through the mental, emotional, and socio-economic challenges they’re experiencing.
Hardman and Parham are two of many students who’ve benefitted from The League. Both recently wrapped up their first year at Butte College and credit the program for changing the direction of their lives.
“In communities of color, we don’t really talk about our feelings at all. But when we went to these meetings, we had a mentor who looked like us talking to us and calmly and collectively sharing his feelings. That opened a pathway for us to share our feelings too.”Kanye Parham
It started with a circle
“In communities of color, we don’t really talk about our feelings at all,” Parham said. “But when we went to these meetings, we had a mentor who looked like us talking to us and calmly and collectively sharing his feelings. That opened a pathway for us to share our feelings too.”
The League provided them with a safe space to discuss their struggles thanks to the courage of the college students, just a few years older, who looked similar to them and spoke in many of the same ways. They would sit in a circle and simply share their struggles.
“Hearing someone say that they grew up the way I grew up and they know how it feels, and everyone saying I’m there for you if you need me, too, was powerful,” Parham said. “Expressing that type of power makes you really strong inside.”
Today, Hardman and Parham are mentors for The League, extolling the virtues of college and sharing their own stories with high school students. They take great pride in making a difference in the lives of the students they speak with.
“A lot of the students are graduating this year and they tell us that we helped them make it there,” said Hardman. “Because we did care. We care about every one of our students and want to make sure they are successful academically and mentally.”
A Sense of Belonging, Purpose, and Value
Men of CHICO (Culture, Honor, Integrity, Courage, and Opportunity) was founded in 2018 to help empower, guide, and support the University’s men of color. Women of Excellence, which serves historically underserved and underrepresented self-identified female students, began soon after. Both initiatives provide a space for community and support, and aid in retention.
“They give students a sense of engagement and investment in the community,” said Malcolm J. McLemore (Parks, Recreation, and Leisure Studies, ’08), who has taught the Men of CHICO class since its inception. “You hear students say that this town isn’t that diverse, so we take them to where the diversity is. We put them around people who may share similar experiences and give them an opportunity to get invested in the community. Through that, they’re building a sense of belonging, a sense of purpose, and a sense of value.”
The program, originally designed with a focus on serving traditionally underserved students, quickly became a conduit for service. Students who experienced the strength and joy of transformation wanted to make sure that others got in on it.
“So many of our students, once they can swim, so to speak, want to start teaching others to swim,” McLemore explained.
The League provided the perfect outlet.
Road Trip! Destination: Chico State
The League is active on three local high school campuses—Chico High School, Pleasant Valley High School, and Fair View High School. College students usually visit the high schools. But a couple times a year, the high school students come to Chico State.
It’s an opportunity to connect with the campus, their college mentors, and each other.
“When kids come to campus and see folks that look like them who are going to Chico State, it suddenly becomes a possibility in their mind, which increases the probability that they will go to college,” said Martha Andrade McLemore (Social Work, ’08; MSW, Social Work, ’09), who works as a wellness counselor at Fair View High School. “They meet students that have similar backgrounds, that understand their music, their vibe, and they connect right away. Those students might be telling them the same thing that I am, but because they’re hearing it from someone who was just a teenager, they’re more open to it.”
It’s also a bonding opportunity for high school students, opening doors to friendship.
“Friendships are blossoming,” said Andrade McLemore. “People tend to judge a book by its cover, but when they spend these days together, they actually find out how many similarities they share, and they become friends.”
The League is Looking to Expand
“Students shouldn’t have to wait until their senior year to finally feel good about themselves.”Markel Hardman
After a successful period of growth and results, the hope is to go even further with a Junior League pilot program. This year, Andrade McLemore is taking a Chico State student and Fair View High School student with her to a local junior high to mentor eighth graders. A group of men is doing the same thing.
Hardman and Parham are excited about the pilot program. They just wish it was around when they were in middle school.
“I think it’s important to get those kids thinking about their futures and their potential as soon as possible,” Parham said. “That gives them a reason to make better decisions today.”
And, according to Hardman, helps lift their self-esteem.
“I know I wish I could have had someone teach me what I learned my senior year in middle school,” Hardman said. “Students shouldn’t have to wait until their senior year to finally feel good about themselves.”
Folks who want to support this work can get more information and even apply to be a mentor via The League’s webpage.