NORFOLK, Va.--Providing the youth with opportunities to succeed has long been a mission for the Seahawks, and their latest venture looks to provide a group of Seattle-area students with exposure to the Historic Black College experience. In partnership with Microsoft, more than a dozen young Black students participating in the WHOLE Mentoring program were sponsored to take a tour of six Historically Black Colleges and Universities on the east coast.
Over the course of this week, 16 young Black men will travel to Black colleges on the other side of the country for an experience they'll never forget. The six-day tour will stop at Norfolk State, Hampton, Virginia State and Virginia Union University before heading north to Washington D.C. for a visits to Howard and the University of the District of Columbia, and for some unique cultural experiences in the Nation's capital.
In 2019, Seattle Public Schools launched the Office of African American Male Achievement (AAMA), geared toward providing outlines and resources for success for young Black men in the Seattle area. From that, the WHOLE Mentoring program was birthed, targeting underclassmen attending Franklin, Chief Sealth, Cleveland, Franklin, Rainier Beach, Garfield and Ingraham.
In addition to providing mentorship, the youth are exposed to a litany of activities revolving around self-empowerment and exposure to new experiences. This includes several collaborative efforts with the Seahawks, including a one-on-one panel with African-American members of Seattle’s front office and a visit to Microsoft with Seahawks tackle Charles Cross to receive free Surface Go 2 Laptops. Sunday, the young men accompanied by the WHOLE team, AAMA Chief Dr. Mia Williams, Mentoring Program Coordinator William King and the Seahawks' community leaders boarded a flight from Seattle to Atlanta to Norfolk for day one of the tour.
Day One: Norfolk State University
After traveling through the air from Sunday night through the wee hours of the morning Monday, the tour group didn't get much sleep upon landing in Norfolk International Airport. The six-hour trek from Seattle to Atlanta before connecting to Norfolk served as the first cross-country journey for some of the young participants. There was no time for sleep, as the tour commenced while Norfolk State students shuffled through morning classes. Mr. Norfolk-elect Prince Jackson led the tour of the 134-acre campus, founded in 1935 as the Norfolk Unit of Virginia Union University. The students learned about the evolution of the school, from branching off to become Norfolk Polytechnic College in 1942, branching off from Virginia State's umbrella as Norfolk State College in 1969 and becoming a university in 1979.
Jackson led the group through the campus, educating them along the way. After visiting several schools and learning about the 60-plus major programs, the group enjoyed an impromptu dance performance and crash course on the Divine Nine fraternity life by members of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc.
Even the jet lag of overnight travel couldn't stop the young group from networking with current students, as they navigated through the grounds. The group shared their amazement with each other as they awed at the large jaw-dropping campus filled with students and professionals that resembled them.
By mid-afternoon, the fatigued group was ready for a recharge, as several students and mentors fell asleep on the shuttle bus to the hotel for the evening. After being given time to check in and freshen up before dinner, the tour proceeded to My Mama's Kitchen in Norfolk, a local 757-area staple. The finger-licking soul food spot just south of Norfolk International Airport has become not only a hot commodity for its meals, but also its hospitality. Despite not serving customers on Mondays, the restaurant opened its doors for the tour, preparing a feast. As Stevenson and the team served up a spread including Buffalo wings, macaroni & cheese, shrimp po' boys, cornbread and banana pudding for dessert, the group was given a crash course on the restaurant's owner and purpose. Longtime Bronx native Moe Stevenson left New York for higher education, heading to Xavier University in New Orleans. It was at the black college that Stevenson discovered his love for cooking - all while earning his degree in Biology. The entrepreneurial lightbulb went off inside Stevenson’s head, who’d learned from his mother (Berrie McKissic) how to cook and hustle. From selling chicken wings in Harlem on the corners, to being nominated for awards, Stevenson's humility doesn't allow him to bask in his success for long. After filling stomachs and providing take-home boxes, Stevenson talked to the boys about their futures.
"Graduating from an HBCU," said Stevenson. "Seeing you young men going out and exploring the world, you guys are going to do great things. I'm proud of each and every one of you guys for even being here today. The path that you set out on now may not be the path that you end up going down, but it's OK. God finds a way to get you where you need to be."
Stevenson also took a moment to discuss the Seahawks and WHOLE patronizing his business and choosing to share his story.
"It means the world to me to be honest with you," said Stevenson. "I really do believe in the youth, and I believe they need to have direction. I don't think there are enough people behind them. I think people get so caught up in their own things that they forget the kids are our future. So we've got to be there for them and make sure they know the importance of college and setting a positive example for them. We started this from ground up. It was a vision and we made it happen. They have to know that they have a support system."
The last stop of the evening was Virginia Beach, where the group got to enjoy rides and carnival games at the Atlantic Fun Park.
With four more days to go, the group will get a first-hand look at the perks of attending one of the many black college campuses across the country.