Jayson Frasier wasn’t talking. Asked questions, he responded with one-word, nonchalant answers. Montrel Morrison pulled him aside—and schooled him on how to speak with adults.
It was a low-stakes encounter: an interview with a reporter.
It was a high-stakes subject: How to help foundering teens find direction with the help of a responsible adult.
Morrison, who is 23, plays that role for Frasier. The interview offered an example of how he does that.
He and Frasier were being interviewed about winning a $10,000 grant for their mentoring organization Gang of Dads. The pair submitted the winning video to First Niagara’s video contest called “Mentor Stories” to highlight quality mentoring programs in Connecticut, beating out almost 100 other mentoring groups statewide.
Most volunteers in mentoring organizations are white women. Few are black men, said Jill Spineti, president of the Governor’s Prevention Partnership, which partnered with First Niagara on the grant. Frasier and Morrison’s video stood out because they portrayed a strong relationship between two black men, she said. Though programs should not “limit matches along racial lines,” boys often feel better being able to “look up and see a person like them” succeeding, Spineti said.
In the video (above), Frasier said Morrison helps him by holding him “accountable,” especially when Fraiser is “making excuses or making a big mistake or just slacking off.”
“I’m not a bad kid. At least I try hard not to be. But sometimes, I don’t try hard enough,” Frasier said in the video. “Sometimes I just need somebody to talk real talk with, somebody that can tell me and show me stuff that a man needs to know. Now, don’t get me wrong. My grandma loves me. I know she does. And I’m thankful to her. But sometimes I feel like she doesn’t always get me.”
Gang of Dads’ nearly 20 mentors and mentees meet on the last Thursday of each month at Church on the Rock for group outings. Each pair has a phone conference each Friday for between 10 minutes and a half hour. The organization will use the money to expand its network of mentors and mentees and to network with other youth groups, Morrison said.
In a computer room at Church on the Rock on Hamilton Street Tuesday, Morrison nudged Frasier when he was unfocused. Morrison laughed with him at their private jokes.
A student at Southern Connecticut State University, Morrison is one of the youngest mentors, more like an older brother to Frasier than he is a father. He joined Gang of Dads as a mentor in November 2013 because he wanted to serve as a male role model to younger people.
“When I was young, I didn’t have a male figure in my life. A male figure co-relates to everything in the juvenile justice system,” especially for young men of color, he said. Morrison’s mother raised him.
A freshman at Metropolitan Business Academy, Frasier joined the mentorship program a couple of years ago when he got into some trouble and the city’s Juvenile Review Board recommended he do so.
Encouraged by Morrison to speak, Frasier opened up and explained what happened next.
“I expected it to be just something I would get in and get out of,” he said of Gang of Dads. And it still feels like a requirement. But it “has its fun moments,” he said. Through the organization, he has met new people, gained a positive outlook on his life and had the opportunity to win a major grant. Frasier said he and Morrison discuss “how to be a positive member of society.”
“It’s a blessing to be part of someone else’s life,” Morrison said. As a mentor, he helps Frasier with girlfriend problems, family issues and school-related challenges.
“Being a minority—that’s a challenge all by itself. You need another brother’s advice,” he said.
Those looking for opportunities to mentor can check the Governor’s Prevention Partnership database of programs statewide.