Isaiah 43’s mentoring program provides guidance and leadership training to local youth.
Growing up, Arriel did not have a relationship with his dad and was raised by his grandmother after his mother passed. Arriel’s grandmother was concerned about his quick temper and attitude and recognized that he needed a male role model as an example of how to be a responsible man. She decided to enroll Arriel in Isaiah 43’s youth programming when he was fourteen years old. In eighth grade, he was matched with Royce Williams, Sr. as a mentor at St. David Parish in the 9th Ward for five years until his high school graduation in 2017.
Now twenty-one years old and studying at Southern University, Arriel reflects, “When I started at Isaiah 43, I wasn’t interested in joining clubs or going to church. School was not glorified where I am from. At first, I was uncomfortable with Royce. You have to understand that most of my life I was raised and educated by women, so having a caring and consistent man in my life was new and awkward, but he grew on me.” Royce attended Arriel’s games and award ceremonies, becoming an important figure in his life who would be in his corner even when it seemed like no one else was.
The Power of Possibility
In his senior year of high school, Arriel began working with Isaiah 43’s former Family Resource Coordinator, Sister Salvatrice, for one-on-one support as he applied to colleges. As a first generation college student, he needed help navigating the intimidating and overwhelming transition. Sr. Salvatrice accompanied him through each step of submitting applications and financial aid forms, registering on-campus, and enrolling in classes. It is one thing to be accepted into college and another to graduate, though. After securing tuition, maintaining a job, and planning for his future, Arriel ran into roadblocks like securing copies of his immunization records, paying additional fees, and opening a savings account. Sr. Salvatrice continued to be a support system during those first few months of college, answering any and all questions.
“Sr. Salvatrice has been so significant and influential in my life, and I would not have been able to achieve all of this on my own. I owe her so much,” exclaims Arriel. Sr. Salvatrice returns the sentiments, sharing, “It has been amazing to watch him grow over the years. He has made an impact on me because he is a constant reminder that adversity is no match for God’s grace, a supportive community, and the determination to succeed. I am incredibly proud of the young man he is becoming, and he is an example not just to the male students in Isaiah 43 but to us all.”
Paving a Path
In college, Arriel has flourished and has been selected to study abroad in Cuba and the Holy Land. He has even created a community for other young black men who are first generation college students. He explains, “In my neighborhood, there are two types of men: guys who live the street lifestyle, and the guys who pursue scholarships to get out of the neighborhood. But what about the guys who have to walk in both of those worlds without being consumed by either environment? I don’t want to be a dope boy, but I also don’t want to abandon my neighborhood.”
He created the One Percenters group for young black men who do not singularly fit into either lifestyle. He continues, “There is a drug dealer in most homes on my block. In the summer, I work at the Ashe Center’s camps, and they send their sons to me to get exposure and education in the arts. I try to act as a teacher and counselor to these young men to keep them engaged and off the street. Their fathers want them to have a good role model.” His dream is to turn the One Percenters into an LLC with merchandise, professional development, and more.
Regularly returning to Isaiah 43, Arriel shares the knowledge he has gained on his journey with young men who are in the same position as he was seven years ago. He has developed and led workshops on communication and public speaking and was invited to participate in Isaiah 43’s Guy Day in May 2019 as a speaker and taught the young men to tie a tie. “Youth need more peer support. Mentoring in general is so needed, but the age gap between adults and teens can leave a lot of room for disconnection. To teenagers, it seems like adults can’t relate to their experiences, so there’s not as much trust. Because I’m closer to their age but a bit older, I understand more of what they’re going through but have a bit more perspective.”
Arriel reveals, “Participating in Isaiah 43 has opened doors for me. Coming back as a junior coordinator, I’ve built time management, public speaking, and event planning skills.” Kristina Gibson, Program Director, remembers meeting Arriel when he was a reserved young man but has had the privilege of watching him grow into a mature, responsible man who uplifts his family and community. He has exceeded her expectations despite facing challenges, and she looks forward to what his future holds.
Learn more about Isaiah 43 and how to become a mentor to local youth here.