Jimmy Pereira, a former Department of Youth Services (DYS) student, graduated from college with a clear goal of becoming an urban planner in his hometown. This past year, he landed the job of his dreams as a Community/Transportation Planner at Old Colony Planning Council in Brockton. In his work, Pereira is developing ways for young people to stay out of trouble in the same neighborhoods where his own troubles with the law began.
“I want to make a big impact,” said Pereira, who is setting his sights on a master’s degree in public administration and running for public office in the state. When he talks about his journey through and beyond DYS, Pereira is quick to credit caring adults who supported him along the way. Mentoring by Darnell Thigpen Williams, Associate Director for Professional Development at CES’ DYS Education Initiative, had a significant influence on his life’s path. “Darnell is a bright star,” Pereira said. “For me, he is really on a pedestal, and he deserves to be.”
After years of being mentored by Williams, Pereira looks forward to mentoring other young people in the Youth Justice Leadership Mentoring (YJLM) Program that Williams is starting next fall. The YJLM program was developed during Williams’ year-long fellowship through the National Juvenile Justice Network, a national organization dedicated to improving the lives of youth in the juvenile justice system. The fellowship award supports the development of leaders of color committed to making positive changes in juvenile justice. Williams is the first person in Massachusetts and one of ten professionals nationwide in 2014 to win the award.
Mentoring relationships lie at the heart of the new program, which will provide one-on-one mentoring guidance and support for youth between the ages of 18 and 24 who are or were involved with DYS, and express interest in going to college.
Williams was inspired by his own experience to develop a way to provide more mentoring experiences for DYS youth. “I know very well what it feels like to need adult support…as I lost my mother when I was 10, ” he said. Following his mother’s death, Williams moved from Detroit to Chicago, where he was introduced to Michelle Obama. Mrs. Obama hired Williams to wash her windows, and quickly developed an easy rapport with him. “Michelle was wonderful – she encouraged me and gave me a lot of support,” he said. She taught him the importance of getting an education, of “giving back,” and striving to be the very best at whatever he set out to do. “I took great pride in pleasing all of my clients…I envisioned being the best window washer in all of Chicago,” Williams said. He hopes that YJLM participants will learn these and other critical life lessons as they work with mentors in the program.
Williams said that program’s mentoring support will encourage young people to realize their “best possible selves” by connecting with positive, dynamic and caring adults who relate to them on a personal level, encourage and support their application to college, motivate them to graduate and achieve their dreams. Mentors will help them identify and build upon their personal and professional strengths.
Pereira said the help of a mentor is invaluable for young people starting out, particularly those who do not have a family that has experience with college and careers. He said Williams helped him set goals, understand language used in the workplace and how to present himself. Williams added that an important aspect of mentoring Pereira was helping him think about and develop his identity, commenting, “What does it mean to be a young black man starting out in the professional world?”
“Had it not been for strong and positive adult influences, I would not have even known that college was a realistic option for me.” – Darnell Thigpen Williams, DYS Associate Director for Professional Development