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It Takes a Family

June 6, 2012

As a child, Jahmel Martin wanted to be a basketball player when he grew up.

“I thought it would be great to play in front of the crowds, under the bright lights,” he says. “My hope was that it would become a hobby, and then the hobby would become my career.”

Although he worked hard at the game, childhood dreams don’t always materialize. Even so, basketball established a goal for Jahmel—one he is on his way to achieving. “I decided early on that I wanted to learn, go to college and have a career, and that I’d need good grades to get there,” he says. “Studying became a habit and I developed a love of learning.”

Currently a senior at Manhattan’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis High School, Jahmel will begun studies at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania this fall, the recipient of a Posse Foundation Scholarship. His participation in BMCC’s Upward Bound Project has figured importantly in his success.

Upward Bound is a federally funded initiative that provides college preparatory support to local public high school students from low-income families in which neither parents holds a college degree.

BMCC’s program helps participants graduate from high school and enter college with the skills and motivation they need to succeed academically and professionally, according to BMCC Upward Bound Project director Antonette McKain.

“Through its academic offerings and community outreach, BMCC has always been a strong advocate for those who are underserved, particularly in New York City,” she says. “Our Upward Bound project reflects this commitment.”
Students like Jahmel Martin are a natural fit for Upward Bound, she adds. “Jahmel has ambition, charisma, varied interests and a tremendous desire to learn and succeed,” she says. “He is absolutely the epitome of an Upward Bound student.”

Support from a loving and nurturing ‘superwoman’


Whatever help he’s had from Upward Bound and others, Jahmel has done most of the heavy lifting himself, a self-motivator who has worked and driven himself hard academically, despite challenges and hardship. Raised in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights section, he lost his mother when he was still a child; his father, for the most part was “not around.”

“When my mom passed away, my aunt stepped in,” he says. “She was a superwoman who did everything she could to help me stay in school and not fall into a state of depression. She has been there for me whenever I’ve needed her.”

Other family members have also been behind him 100 percent, he says, and their support has made all the difference.

“Growing up, I saw a lot of people out on the streets, not in school—people who just didn’t apply themselves,” he says.

“My aunt and family told me, ‘The streets aren’t where you’re supposed to be.’ I took that and I ran with it. I went to school and did my work. When I’d get an 80, I didn’t take that as ok—it meant I did only 80 percent of the work, not 100 percent. My aunt ingrained that desire to succeed in me, and it kept me going throughout high school.”

Upward Bound provides students like Jahmel with a broad array of academic support services, including tutoring and SAT prep, as well as counseling and cultural enrichment and other services, including tours of college campuses.

A close-up look at college life

“The idea is for the students to really walk the walk—to see what campus life is really like—not just from pictures and videos on college websites,” says McKain.

BMCC also nominates Upward Bound participants for Posse Foundation Scholarships, which are awarded to promising but underserved high schools students like Jahmel.

Once enrolled, the students benefit from campus services, as well as from ongoing support from their peer cohort or “posse”—other Posse Foundation Scholars on campus. The scholarship covers full tuition costs for four years. “I’m excited and honored to have been selected for a Posse Scholarship,” Jahmel says.

Not surprisingly, he credits BMCC with a key role in his success.

“BMCC, Antonette and Upward Bound created a true family environment and gave me a home,” he says. As he knows from personal experience, “once you have the backing of a loving and supportive family, you can succeed in life and make it to the next level.”

He chose Dickinson College, he adds, for a similar reason.

“The college is located in a beautiful, bucolic setting and provides the same supportive family environment, with small classes, friendly students, and dedicated professors who always willing to take the time to help.”

Though still weighing career options, Jahmel is leaning toward a career in criminal justice.

“I think I could do well as a defense lawyer,” he says. “For one thing I love to argue. But more important, it would be a way to give back and help people in need.” For Jahmel, that could be the most compelling incentive of all.

“As an African-American male, I want to be a role model for others—a trail blazer for others to follow,” he says.  “I’ll never forget that I didn’t make it this far without the help of others.”

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