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Three students from Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, might be superheroes.
Solomon Wallace and Zyon Mathis, both juniors, and Obediah Lewis, a sophomore, were recruited for a special program in Boston that will last from late June to early August.
They will be working with Jacqueline Rivers who, in her 2018 convocation address at Benedictine College commented on the superhero Black Panther and said, “Right here at Benedictine, future heroes walk among us. Many who may not be easily recognized because of their gender, the color of their skin or other characteristics that are not stereotypically heroic.”
You will tell who they are, she said, because they “embrace the privilege and responsibility that comes with a college education; working hard to serve the needy.”
That matches what these three men plan to do.
“We’ll be working with students who graduated from 8th grade and are heading into high school, students who are struggling,” Wallace said. “I’ll be helping them get their math and language arts skills up. They were hit by COVID pretty hard with the online learning and it impacted their grades.”
In 2019, Benedictine College and the Rivers’ Seymour Institute on Black Church and Policy Studies created a partnership that sent college students to Boston to work as tutors and mentors for middle school students through the Martin Luther King Summer Scholars Program.
The program was founded by both Dr. Jacqueline Rivers, Executive Director of the Seymour Institute, and her husband, Reverend Eugene F. Rivers, III, a noted political advisor on faith-based initiatives and crusader against gang violence.
The program includes morning academic classes and then afternoon sessions like museum visits or trips to historical sites planned by the college students — and their own sessions with the Rivers.
“This summer, we’re doing the 5 Ps (Patience, Persistence, Perseverance, Passion, and Purpose) plus some very challenging readings,” said Wallace. “We’ll sit down with the Rivers at least five times a week and they’ll want us to discuss the readings and our thoughts on the philosophy of success presented by the 5 Ps. They’re going to challenge our thinking.”
Rev. Rivers similarly challenged Gregorian Fellows’ thinking when he addressed them before the pandemic.
“You are the recipients of one of the most morally extraordinary intellectual and spiritual traditions in history” as Catholics, he told them, and challenged them that “It’s scarier to stand up against the politically correct than standing up against the gangs. To stand up to the culture and tell them what God wants to do is scarier.”
“I like their energy,” Mathis said about the Rivers. “I like their willingness to serve. The great work they are doing in the community is very inspiring to young men such as me and Solomon.”
Wallace said that aside from his own learning experience, though, it is the impact on the young people of Boston that is the most important part of the program.
Dealing with middle school-aged students, teaching, planning trips for the kids, managing their own learning program, and traveling and living in a big city can amount to a challenge for the college students participating in the program. But these Benedictine students embrace the challenge and are ready to make a difference in the lives of the children in Boston.
Said Mathis: “If it’s a challenge, we’re ready to step up. There’s always going to be adversity and challenges, so we just have to rise above it, push through, and help these kids. They’re the future and we need them.”
Jacqueline Rivers’ parting advice to students in her convocation address applies. “You will always have Jesus with you,” she concluded. “He will strengthen you as he did Dr. King. He will never leave you alone.”