Thomas Mentor Leadership Academy Call to Action

What if every child raised by a single parent, grandparent or guardian had the same opportunities as a child raised by dual parents?

Photo of Old Friend
2 2

Written by

Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

I was raised by a single parent and without the support of men in my community, I would not have successfully attended college and retired from the military (Army) at the rank of Colonel. There were many things that I did not have the opportunity to either attend or learn about because of my situation. There was always the assumption that I did not have someone to drop me off or pick me up at an event. My self-esteem was low and I did not stand up for myself. I thought I was intelligent, however, I did not have an opportunity to go on cultural trips with the other academically motivated students. I could not swim, however, the other members could. The Thomas Mentor Leadership Academy's mission is to guide young males between the ages of 10 and 15 who are being raised by a single parent, legal guardian or their grandparents(s) into mentoring relationships that will focus on self-image, education and conflict resolution. It is my goal to instill the confidence and change the self-image of young men, especially young men of color, so that they see the value of education, making good decisions and experiencing life many wonders.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • North Carolina

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • North Carolina

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]


Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Two-thirds of African American children in North Carolina are raised in single-parent homes. Compared to their peers in two-parent households, these children have significantly lower levels of school attendance and academic achievement, and are twice as likely to drop out of high school. Single parent homes have higher levels of financial and emotional stress and often lack a reliable male role model. Although African American children make up around a quarter of the students enrolled in North Carolina’s public schools, they account for over half of out-of-school suspensions. Nationally, one in three black males can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. In the face of these and other sobering realities, TMLA provides strong role models, clear structure, and high expectations, working with young men and their families rather than against them.

Thomas Mentor Leadership Academy Call to Action Project will enable young males who are being raised by a single parent, legal guardian or their grandparent(s)  to develop coping skills to focus on self-image, education and conflict resolution.  Through our group mentoring process, we will encourage and instill a sense of discipline and self-worth to the young men.  Thus developing their confidence, leadership skills and positive influence within their families and among the community. 

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Low-income communities

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Child and Family Services
  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Criminal Justice
  • Education
  • Mental Health

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Growth (the pilot has already launched and is starting to expand)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

An example of how a person walks through this network is based on our teaching manual called, "Dare to Be King" by David C. Miller. We have various sessions on what it takes to be a man and to grow up in different environments. We bring in speaker from educational settings, community leaders to include representatives from the academic, judicial and police communities. One specific student who had been in the program, started off with a low self-image of himself and with a quiet demeanor. The confidence of this student has grown and he was recently selected to attend a science, technology, engineering and math program at Appalachian State University this summer. The mother of this young man is raising two boys alone.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

In late 2011, the Thomas Mentor Leadership Academy was started. In January 2012, the Academy started with six boys and the young man mentioned in the previous paragraph was one of those young men with his brother. Today, we have 17 boys in the program. We are projecting 25 boys in the program by 2017. Another success of the program is that none of our young men have dropped out of school. All of young men are required to participate in community activities. Our focus is on young boys who are between the ages of 10 and 12 so that we can reach them early enough to develop their self-image, positive focus, coping skills and discipline. Education and respect for adults are also important characteristics of the program. Additionally, 100 percent of the parents participate in the Parent Support group and attend regularly schedule parenting classes.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $50k - $100k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Solutions to maintain the project's growth are as follows: - Increase individual donors - Application to grants (We just brought on to the Board someone who is a grant writer) - Support from area academic institutions, banks and religious organizations.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

While TMLA is similar in intent to large mentoring organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, and operates in the same spirit as last year’s semi-finalist “Transforming Boys to Men,” it is a unique organization. First, TMLA’s comprehensive approach to the development and eventual success of our young men is uncommon. Our mentors make regular visits to the schools and homes of our “cadets.” They are familiar with the specific social and academic challenges that our mentees face. As our young men progress through school, we work to ensure that they are actively involved in activities.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

It is not controversial to say that our society and our way of interacting with the world is changing more rapidly than our traditional educational and social institutions can keep up. Historically, these sorts of rapid changes have been detrimental for socially marginalized and economically disadvantaged communities. A growing emphasis on non-cognitive skills and habits of mind such as perseverance, empathy, grit, optimism, and mindfulness have the potential to help disadvantage kids overcome many of the obstacles that have traditionally resulted in vastly different outcomes. Our goal.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Article in the news


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ivette Guillermo-McGahee

Larry, thank you for your contribution.  It is great to see how you have harnessed your personal experiences and turned them into fuel for a program which seeks to alleviate the experiences you went through growing up.  I am curious to know if you are planning to institute a comparable program for adolescent females raised by single parents, and if you have considered providing "motherly" mentors  for adolescent males who are raised by single fathers?   You mentioned that this project uses the "Dare to be King" manual - what are some other resources this project utilizes to meet its goals?  Thanks again!

Photo of Old Friend

Thank you for your question and your interest.  Yes, it is in our plan to institute a similar program for females raised by single parents.  We provide positive role models and males mentors for our young men.  It is our intent to do the same for our program to mentor young females, however, with female mentors and positive role models.  Our positive role models are both male and female.   Some of our role models are college students, parents and single males and females.  Some of our females role models are moms who have raised boys and are still raising them.  We have an advisory board as part of our TMLA organization, in which four of the six board members are comprised of females and most of which are mothers.  Your question, if we have considered providing "motherly" mentors for adolescent males who are raised by single fathers, we think we have.  Our program is based on the group mentoring process and for our young men, as stated earlier, we have mothers and fathers who are positive role models talking to our young men.  We make every effort to keep the specific family member, whether it is the mother or father,  involved in the males life, if they want to be.  Some of our other resources are as follows:  "Building Youth Leaders (Constructing Your Path to Impacting the World Workbook) " by Mischa P. Toland; "Khalil's Way" by David Miller - reading book for the boys over the summer;  "Raising Him Alone (Things Black Women Can Do to Raise Boys to Be Men)" by David Miller and Matthew Stevens - Book for the parents.  We are also doing leadership training on building youth leaders with the young men.  We have a very active program with the young men to build their self-esteem and motivation to excel through education, discipline and decision making.  We partner with parents, schools, churches, law enforcement agencies and other community resources to support this program.