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'The relationship is mutually beneficial:' Mentorship program expands at CHCCS

Camille Berry poses for a portrait at Joe Van Gogh in Hillsborough on Oct. 8, 2022.

The Blue Ribbon Mentor-Advocate program, a mentorship program designed to close the racial achievement gap in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, has returned for the 2023-24 school year.

The program has provided CHCCS students with educational and career opportunities like mentoring, tutoring, advocacy and leadership development since its founding in 1995.

Camille Berry, a Chapel Hill Town Council member and a BRMA mentor, said each student or “scholar” maintains a relationship with a mentor throughout their primary schooling. Some start in elementary school and some get paired later, but they all stay in contact with their mentor until high school graduation. 

“The hope is that a mentoring advocacy relationship with that student can persist and endure until they graduate, and then perhaps beyond,” Berry said. “I have met some partners where they have done that — they have gone beyond that.”

Sarah Poulton, a senior project manager for the Town of Chapel Hill and a BRMA mentor, said mentors take on many roles. She said responsibilities include helping navigate the college application process, advocating for in-school accommodations and engaging in social activities.

Though much of her recent time with her mentee has been college-focused, Poulton said they spend time together informally too.

Lorie Clark, the coordinator of student leadership and engagement for CHCCS, said the program has also been holding mentor training for a new cohort of mentors to be matched with scholars in the next month.

“I think they're excited about making a difference in the community and getting to know a scholar,” Clark said. “Our program is a strength-based program, and so we stress that the relationship is mutually beneficial.” 

She said BRMA currently works with about 70 scholars — 60 of whom are currently matched.

Clark said the program aims to increase the number of scholars in BRMA in fourth through eighth grade, an age group that has less scholars because the program was less active from 2019-21. 

BRMA releases a monthly schedule that includes college application nights, college tours and Youth Leader Institute meetings at schools around the district.

Clark also said BRMA started two initiatives last year: Blueprint and LevelUp.

The Blueprint initiative provides middle school scholars with opportunities to engage in social justice, leadership and character-building activities, she said.

LevelUp is a program specifically for young men of color in eighth through 12th grade, Clark said.

Sahmoi Stout, an alumnus of BRMA who is now a specialist with the program, said participants of LevelUp have the opportunity to participate in activities like basketball games and field trips — such as an upcoming one to Black Wall Street in Durham.

LevelUp also hosts varying guest speakers and panels.

“We have people who have specialized in this particular field, whether it's like the police force or boxing, or even a local chapter of a fraternity,” Stout said. “We would have them come in and speak to the guys about what they're part of — how it's empowered them — and what they've learned from their experiences.”

Stout has been involved with the program since he was in the fourth grade, he said. After graduating high school, he said he witnessed some of the ups and downs of the program’s activity.

Stout said he believes the BRMA program is here to stay. 

“I feel like there's always going to be a need to enrich kids' lives, especially kids of color,” Stout said. “So that is where I can see it growing.”

@DTHCityState |

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