A Conversation with Dr. Jamal Stroud

Dr. Jamal Stroud x YMC

A Conversation

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Enjoy the Youth Mentoring Collaborative's conversation with Dr. Jamal Stroud, Founder of Big Homie Lil Homie Mentoring.


Begin Transcript

Tell me a little about yourself (00:08 - 01:18)
I’m a father of two young boys, ages three (3) and four (4). I’ve been married for five (5) years. I just enjoy working with youth and helping the community. I enjoy spending time with my loved ones. I enjoy just gathering - gathering is very important to me and my heart. Being around loved ones, caring, sharing, experiencing new ideas with my peers, with my family. Traveling is another big key for me as well. I feel like I don’t have enough time in the day because my heart goes out to a lot of people. Especially with mentoring, you know, you have a lot of youth that tend to pull, need, don’t need, have to check in. So, I try to play the balancing act with being a mentor, being a present father, being a present husband as well. It’s the jack of all trades, as I like to say. So, that’s a little bit about me in a nutshell.


How do you balance work, life, and mentoring? (01:22 - 03:08)
It is a lot, but when it comes to the youth, we’d rather the present. I say we, me and my team, because I solely can’t do it by myself. We want to make sure we’re there for every Little experience. We may think it’s little, they may think it’s little, but it’s really a big accomplishment to make it to a new year. There are so many tragedy stories that, you know, certain kids didn’t make it, kidnapping, or kids giving up on life. So we want to make sure we celebrate life, continue to go, continue to push. They may not be at their best points right now, but we want to make sure they can see the future, and that their future can be brighter than their past. Those are some things we want to articulate to let the kids know, “hey, we’re here for you. We’re gonna make it work. You may have got a B or a D in that class, but it’s not the end of the world.” We want to continue to be those cheerleaders because having a cheerleader, someone on the side who is cheering you on along the way when you get low. A lot of times our kids want to give up or just throw in the towel, you know, it’s a few days before Christmas break and they want to do something foolish in school. We want to make sure that we’re right there to push them along to say, “hey - do’t give up now. Do your best. Continue to focus. Every day counts. Even if you messed up on a previous day, you have a new day to start back over. Start fresh. Those are things I’m trying to juggle to let the youth know that they can affect their futures by the decisions they make today.


What is Big Homie Lil Homie Mentoring? (03:09 - 08:23)
Yes, as you see I’m lighting up over here, I’m really excited about [Big Homie Lil Homie]. Big Homie Lil Homie is a nonprofit mentoring program in Columbia, South Carolina. We’re committed to building strong, trusting relationships, positive attitudes, life skills, and enriched life experiences for our young men. We started in 2017. A quick backstory - I was a foster child. By the age of six (6), I was in six (6) different foster homes. So, I didn’t have that ideal situation where I had a big sibling or person to take me out and do things. I always said to myself, “When I get older, if I’m in the right space, I would love to give back.” I didn’t know what it was gonna be, or how it was gonna be. That was my small backstory on wanting to give back, because I know how important it is to have someone in your corner, that’s rooting for you, that truly wants the best for you, that doesn’t want anything, any money, in return, they just want to see the best for you. I wanted to be that person, that figure.
Growing up in the 1990s, I watched Fresh Prince of Bel Air. They had a whole bunch of reruns in the height of the era. Uncle Phil (a character in the show) was someone I always wanted to have in my life. He was fair, but he also wanted the best for Will (another character in the show). So I thought hey, when I get older, if I have kids, I’m gonna be just like [Uncle Phil].

That was one of my driving forces on always trying to be there for the youth.
You know, we have to have correction, we have to have those tough talks or discuss those tough topics, but at the end of the day we lead with love. Not putting them down and scolding them for their wrong decisions, but leading with love and letting them know that their lives are precious and that we’re gonna get through this together.
Fast forward to 2022, we have mentors that think, feel, and believe the same way I do about the youth [in Big Homie Lil Homie]. It’s great; it’s ideal that we really have men that want to pour back into our communities, that want to give back to our kiddos. Currently we have over 500 kids enrolled in the program, which I think is great and sad. In our program, we work with young boys ages six (6) to sixteen (16) who come from fatherless homes, so that’s 500+ young males that do not have an active male in the home or do not have a male in the home at all.

That sucks, but we do have this mentoring program where we will continue to provide these services, to help out and create those experiences, create and help with developing those dreams. We always tell our kids, especially the six (6) year olds, “it’s never too early to dream. It’s never too early, and the dream is never too big. So if you want to dream, we’re gonna do it together and make a road map to success for you.” We understand that life happens, which is why we came up with this term, ‘re-goaling.’ Sometimes we may not reach the goal we had, like going into the NBA, or being a doctor, or getting a B in our class, but we can re-goal and keep on going. Those are some things we provide for the kiddos.

We have three facets of the program: (a) one-on-one mentoring. That’s traditional mentee and mentor mentoring. (b) virtual mentoring. This is a really big hit, which surprised me. We meet every Wednesday, since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, from 8am to 8:30am. We have a meet and greet and then move into deeper topics like positive masculinity, is it okay to cry. The kids love it. We keep them engaged by having both the mentors and the kids on and participating and giving feedback. Because mentoring - it’s always one thing for the mentor to provide [feedback], but we want to hear back from the kids as well because it’s a two-way street. We have to learn from them, see what the new trends are. This is a great way for us to keep our ears to the ground to continue to provide a better service for the kids; and then (c) group events. We typically meet every other Saturday and have a range of events that we do for our younger kids, middle kids, and older kids. So, that’s Big Homie Lil Homie in a kind of big bucket.


Are you a Mentor? How many mentors work with Big Homie Lil Homie Mentoring? (08:24 - 09:27)
For me, I always say we have to lead by example. That works for our program. We have other mentoring programs where the owner, the CEO, whatever we want to call each other, kind of is hands off, but I always love to have hands on experience with our kids, so I do mentor as well. Currently we have 50 guys that are active within the program. We typically meet once a month so we can create gameplans, make sure our missions are still aligned, and showing up for our kids as well. That’s a big thing in mentoring. It’s one thing to say, “yes! I’m a mentor!” But it’s another thing to actually show up for your mentee. We have to show up to those basketball games, those baseball games, to let the kids know that we’re still here for them, cheering for them. Even a simple FaceTime call or Zoom call to check in to see how was their day at school, how was that play, how was their test, are ways to be there for that child.


Why Should People Care about Mentoring? (09:28 - 12:02)
Yes, great question - and this isn’t a recruiting strategy or anything. Our kids - and I say “our kids” because I feel like we’re in the same fight here - the kids are our future. And if we don’t guide them or help them out along the way, they can get lost. So if there’s anyone that wants to help out and provide time - and I say that time is a little bit more effective than money - sometimes just showing up for that child is truly amazing. But, we understand that some people do not have the actual time, but they may have the dollars or the resources or just a connection point. All of these things can play a big role in creating a healthier young person. They could be male, female - we just want to make sure we’re showing up and being consistent, because throughout life, children - when trauma happens or when there is a problem in the house - they are the first ones to get robbed of that hope. I say that because our children are the first ones to get let down, and we want to make sure as mentors that we’re there to guide them through, pick them up when they’ve fallen, pick them up when they’ve given up all hope. I say that because I was a child that had given up all hope, thinking “no one’s gonna care about me.” But I had someone when I got into high school that said, “hey, Jamal, you can do it! You can make it happen.” I’m originally from Brooklyn, New York, and I wasn’t exposed to going to different states - I didn’t even know too much about college at that age, which is said. But [this person] said, “Jamal, the world is much bigger than Brooklyn, New York.” Just that simple line has still stuck with me 10, 15 years later. I use that same line for my kiddos, “hey, the world is much bigger than your school district, or just your neighborhood. You can go anywhere you want to go. You can do anything that you put your mind to.” Basically, just being that helping hand for the next generation. Sooner or later, I’m gonna get old, so we’re gonna need to pass the baton. Because there are gonna still be kids that need that extra help.
I always tell people if you want to mentor, you can for my organization or anyone else’s, but please just try to give back because these kids are our future.


Tell me about your mentor (12:03 - 13:52)
The way I thought about it, it was just a guy that wanted to hang out and spend time with me. He would say, “hey, Jamal, we’re gonna go hang out and play basketball today,” and I would say, “alright!” Or, “Jamal, we’re gonna go to the movies today,” and I would say, “okay!” But now, fast forwarding to now, I’m doing the same exact thing [with the kids in my program] as well. It’s really great that this gentleman, his name is Jerry, poured so much into me. Even now, we still have a relationship, which is really amazing. My heart goes out to him for seeing something in me that I didn’t see myself; for believing in me when I didn’t believe in myself. He helped me see dreams that I couldn’t even see. Those situations are the kind that will stick with you for a lifetime.
So, what happened was, my aunt, we always went to church and everything like that, so every Sunday, [Jerry] would help me tie my tie, and things like that. Back then, I was into basketball, so he was like, “hey, Jamal, I can teach you how to play basketball.” It wasn’t an official title, and he wasn’t part of a program, it was just the strength of the fact that he saw something in me and said, “I want to give back time to you.” At the time, I may have taken it for granted, like, “oh, we’re just gonna go play basketball.” But he was pouring things into me while we played basketball, like, “hey, you can go to college, you can do this, you can go here, you can be this.” Now that I look at it I can see he was definitely pouring positivity into me, but at the time I thought it was just another fun trip. Those are the great mentors; they allow you to have fun, but also give you positive things that can last for a lifetime.


How can someone be a better mentor? (13:53 - 15:04)
I always like to use this analogy. We as mentors may pour into the child like a flower - pour into the child, pour into the child - and sometimes we want to see the end result really fast, we want to see roses, we want to see the full plant. But like all plants, it starts from the inside. When you water it, it starts to grow from under, and then you’ll see the flowers bloom and blossom and everything like that. So when it comes to mentoring, we have to be patient, and we also have to understand the process. The child may not have those fruits growing within them - it may be ten (10) years from now that the child says, “hey, I remember when we did this, or when Jamal did this, or when Adrian said this…” I’m naming other people from [Big Homie Lil Homie Mentoring], and that can start to bear fruit. Those are some things where we connect it to flowers and things like that. Those are just some things - I’m very appreciative for my mentor Jerry to pour into me that I can speak volumes to later, you know, with you today.


Can informal mentoring have an impact? (15:05 - 17:01)
The informal [mentoring] is very important as well. A lot of times, mentors, or guys, will say, “I don’t got a lot of time for that, I’m just working with my team.” But they’re still pouring positivity into their team. When I was in high school, I ran track and field, so my coach, Coach Bedula, he poured into us as well. It’s really great to be around those positive figures, those male figures, those strong figures that believe in you and that want the best for you and that push you to your potential. There were many times at practice where I said, “Coach, I give up, I give up,” and he said, “Jamal, you can push through it.” Growing up from six (6) year old to eleven (11), twelve (12), thirteen (13), I didn’t have any positive males, but when I get into sports, like you said informal, and when I got into church, [I did]. So those are just some things where it’s very vital. In those teenage years, you can go up or down, left or right; it’s a pivotal stage of trying to find yourself, know yourself, find who you are. It’s ideal, it’s really great, for someone to have a mentor at that age because, like I said, life can go either way. I was just grateful and fortunate to have guys pouring into me at that age, having guys say, “Have you ever thought about this? Have you ever thought about trying this?” Encouraging those positive things like going to college, continuing to push through when things get hard. Calling someone when things got hard that I could pour out to and say, “Hey, I’m going through this, I’m struggling with this,” just having that positive ear too is really great.


Tell me about the Mayor’s Mentoring Alliance in Columbia, SC (17:02 - 20:48)
So, this happened in, I want to say maybe 2018, 2019. We were, and I say we as in Big Homie Lil Homie Mentoring, were working throughout the community and everything like that. Every December, we try to do a big toy giveaway for the entire community. Because it’s one thing to give back to our mentees, but we want to make sure our mentees understand the importance of giving back to the community as well - that’s a big portion of the success of our program, for us to give back to the community. So we had our former mayor, Mayor Benjamin, take a liking to the program and put us down on the [city’s] website, Columbia’s resources for mentors. Things like that kind of bubbled in. When [Mayor Benjamin] stepped down, we had a new mayor, Mayor Rickerman. We had a formal meeting with [Mayor Rickerman] to see where we could all align together, which was a really great cause to have the mayor step in to see if we could receive funding, guidance, resources, and even small connections to really help out. So basically just being that number one support, and being on that resource page as well too, where families could say, “Hey, I don’t know where to find a mentor.” They can go to the mayor’s website and pull up the mentor list - we’re on that mentor list as well too, which is really great to kind of have that resource, to have those eyes. Having the government officials believe in us was really a fun thing - I never thought in a million years that would happen, but I guess the good work we have been putting together has been really monumental here in Columbia, South Carolina. Like I said, it’s never me, it’s the team that’s with me that allows us to continue to be great leaders, great role models, and to continue showing up for the kids too.

The funny thing is that it all started with social media. A lot of people say social media is bad, is good, but it’s really all about how you control the narrative. We would post basically Monday through Friday - we tagged [Mayor Rickerman] in a few posts, and he liked it and read up on what we’re doing. The consistency as well, being there for our kids, and not doing it for funding, we’re doing it for the strength of love, we’re doing it for our kids and the future. So [the mayor’s office] just kind of took a liking to the program and we had a conversation where they asked, “Hey, would you want to be featured as one of our resources?” Of course we said yes, it was a great opportunity to reach more mentors and mentees. So that’s been a great lane for us to continue to expand and grow for our mission.

And then, when it comes to the Mayor, we always want to expose our kids to something new. Having one of our mentees come to the meeting and meet the Mayor. This is basically lining our kids up for great success, so they can say, “I met the Mayor today, this is cool.” Possibly they can be the next mayor! So we’re just planting these seeds so they can grow into something beautiful. Like I said, it’s all about those experiences as well.


How can young people engage with advocacy? (20:49 - 23:01)
Some tips I will say - for one, be willing and be open to learn. I know when I was a teenager I thought I knew everything. So just being able to learn and listen - that’s a great situation there. Another thing, be willing to help. Don’t look for any funds or something like, “Oh, I’m just doing this because they’re gonna pay me $30.00,” or, “They’re gonna give me a gift card.” When it’s like that, I always tell my teens, just be willing to help out. You never know who’s watching. Just do something from the strength of your heart and not a dollar amount; that’ll get you a long way in life. Doing it for the love and care. Like I always tell people, pay it forward; you do something for somebody else, and somebody else will do something for you. Prime example: our kids, we’re doing something for them, so hopefully they can do something for the community. We kind of call it the “circle of life” from Lion King. We call it the “circle of life of mentoring,” where we do something, then the kids do something, like a trickle down effect. Those are some tips.

Another thing: I know when it comes to social media, we run a social media pilot program where we teach the kids what to post, how to post, what not to post. A lot of times that gets swept under the rug. We want to make sure when they fill out applications for these jobs, or for college applications, we want to make sure that their social media etiquette is okay. That’s another thing we’ve been working on. I know social media is free, but at the same time it can be a hindrance if you’re liking something or posting something that’s inappropriate. That’s something we’ve been working on with our teenagers.


How would you like to see policy in SC change to uplift youth mentoring? (23:02 - 25:07)
Uh, yes! We have thought about that, and I know time is valuable as well. We would love for there to be an actual mentoring day here in Columbia, where individuals can come up to the school, and it’s like a county-wide mentor day where mentors can come to the school, do life skills with the kids. I know life skills is a stretch, because the kids have to do that academic stuff, but basically being able to sit in the classroom with the kids. Or even just having lunch with the kids. Think about it - for all the schools in Columbia to have a mentoring day would be really monumental. That could kind of phase away some of the bullying, a lot of the other mistreatments, goofing off in class. Those are some big dreams that we have that we will speak into existence. So hopefully whoever see’s this interview can make that happen, wink wink! We would definitely love for a state-wide or county-wide mentoring day where mentors come to the school and actually be the chaperone in the classroom. I think we have enough people to do that - great people here in South Carolina, or North Carolina, to actually do that.

And also the other steps are continuing to improve our relationship with the mayor, with the legislative office and things like that. Continuing to be consistent about showing that mentoring works and imagine if we had that mentoring day! So basically selling the dream, articulating it well too for the staff so that they can understand that mentoring is truly the key for success.


What do you want people to know about mentoring?(25:08 - 25:29)
The main goal is to let people know that mentoring truly works, and that the connections truly work. We are changing the trajectory of our youths lives just by being there, showing up, listening to them.


How did you hear about Youth Mentoring Collaborative? (25:30 - 27:52)
Yes, it was two ways. For one, I was on the [Youth Mentoring Collaborative’s] website - I did a quick google search. I know we were trying to do something with our youth, take them to a conference. I always go to a lot of conferences, and this was one of the first conferences that had a youth track. So, I was eager to understand more, learn more. Because when I go to conferences, I always come back rejuvenated, ready to rock and roll and take over with the things that I learn. I wanted to provide that same situation for our youth as well. When I knew [Youth Mentoring Collaborative] offered a youth track, it was a no-brainer. I was like, “hey, we need to get the van, we need to get these dates, we need to get it happen, plain and simple.”
So that was one way.

Another way too was that we were receiving [consulting services] from you all, and it was a great time. I know that the branding and everything was changing with [Youth Mentoring Collaborative’s rebrand], so I just kind of stuck true and stayed with you all and continued to learn more about the mission, the cause, the purpose. Also there was a lot of great synergy going on between the two programs. So those were the two ways.

Again, the main selling point was the Symposium, and my kiddos were able to go, learn in a safe environment, and connect with other mentor programs too. It was a beautiful sight. When we were eating lunch and my mentees were in the hall playing the bean bag game with another mentoring program was really amazing. Just to connect is amazing, we always talk about the connection points. That was really amazing for us to see that - they’re running with it and actually learning more about music, connecting, sharing social media, saying, “hey, are you coming back next year?” “Yeah, we coming back!” So those are some things that resonated that doesn’t translate on paper but creates those life memories for those kids.


What message would you like to leave with the audience? (27:53 - 30:20)
The last thing is, something that I highlighted a little bit earlier, always lead with love. Always lead with love. When we’re talking about our youth, they’re steadily changing and evolving, so just lead with love. Sometimes you don’t understand them and that’s perfectly fine. The more time we spend with them the more we understand them, and that’s a really great thing when it comes to mentoring. As a mentor, when we leave a session, we should change a little bit or be a little bit better than when we started that session - that goes for the mentor and the mentee. Let’s try to lead with love, try to get an understanding. It’s really easy to say, “I don’t understand them, I can’t connect with them.” But just try. That simple try - showing up and being there. They may tell you something 150 times, but that 151st time, you may finally have that dialogue and understand where that child is hurting or why that child is acting out. We want to just make sure we lead with love at all times because it’s not guaranteed that they’re getting love at home. It’s not a guarantee. When we lead with love, they can understand and can have that message or feeling that will stay with them forever. They’ll say, “I remember Jamal. He led with love and told me I could do anything I put my mind to.” Those small things we may think are nothing or take for granted, but that child may be going through a dark time and they may feel like, “this is the only person that listens to me and cares about me.” So, we just try to lead with love. Our kids are always the first to get robbed of hope, and they can be the ones that be let down the most. We want to make sure that we’re there for them, caring for them, loving for them, and cheering for them. It’s really great to have someone cheering for you - just like when you were telling me some good things about myself, it felt great, and I’m 32! So imagine a 12 year old, 14 year old, six year old, hearing those positive things as well. So let’s continue to lead with love and continue to make mentoring happen in both ends.

End Transcript


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