Fanning the Fires of Youthful Aspirations
by Jim Duffy
Photos by Keith Weller
Robert Wilson is one determined young man. This is reflected not just
in the words the Dunbar High School sophomore chooses when asked about
his plans for the future, but even more in the way he delivers those
words-very slowly and very clearly, with a steely gaze in his eyes and
with pauses so emphatic that each word becomes a forceful sentence unto
"I. Am. Going. To. College."
The West Baltimore resident doesn't know yet what school he'll attend.
He doesn't know how he'll pay for tuition. But he still knows where
he'll be headed after graduating from Dunbar in the spring of 2005.
"If I have to pay for it myself," he says, "I'll find
a way. I am going to college."
Standing beside Wilson is Mgavie Brathwaite, a computational biologist
who works for the National Institute on Aging out of a lab at Johns
Hopkins Bayview. There is something of the proud older brother in Brathwaite's
smile as he listens to this 10th grader's resolute words. Brathwaite
is one of Wilson's mentors in BOND TO BOND, a Johns Hopkins Hospital
program that fosters connections between select Baltimore high school
students and professionals working in every aspect of medicine-research,
teaching, patient care and administration.
All told, there are more than 40 students enrolled in BOND TO BOND,
half from Dunbar and half from the Institute of Notre Dame. Through
the academic year, these students participate both in regular individual
meetings with their mentors and in group events that range from social
gatherings to inspirational and educational sessions.
In the after-school hours of this Thursday afternoon, Wilson is one
of the 20 students from Dunbar and the Institute of Notre Dame who have
gathered in the faculty dining room at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. They
fill out surveys designed to help them discover their own strengths
and personality traits. Then they discuss how such self-knowledge can
help guide their preparations for future careers.
Brathwaite arrives as the session is winding down and invites Wilson
aside for an informal chat. Their animated exchange centers on an interactive
educational CD about the basics of biology. Brathwaite gave the CD to
Wilson a few weeks before; now, Wilson tells his mentor, all of his
friends at Dunbar are asking if they, too, can get copies. "Fortunately,
I've got a box full of them in the lab," says Brathwaite, who once
taught biology at a charter school in New York City.
When the two first met last fall, Wilson told Brathwaite that he was
thinking about becoming a surgeon. Brathwaite has been talking with
Wilson ever since about the steps he'll need to take to realize such
a dream and the options he'll have along the way. "He's helped
me think about where to start and what I have to do to prepare myself,"
Wilson says. "Undergraduate biology in college is where I have
to start-that's why I'm spending a lot of time with the CD."
"BOND TO BOND is a great opportunity for the students, but I think
it's a great opportunity for me, too," says Braithwaite as Wilson
rejoins the group. "It's a chance to maybe spark somebody's brain
so that they see all the opportunities out there and maybe help them
make the most of those opportunities."
BOND TO BOND, an acronym devised by students in the program, stands
for Building Our Neighborhood Dreams Beyond Our Neighbors Doors. Its
genesis dates to the mid-1990s, when the non-profit Commonwealth Fund
set out to help 15 academic medical centers launch trail-blazing mentoring
programs with an eye toward developing a set of "best practices"
that could then be adopted at other institutions. "Our goal is
to help give kids an understanding of the career pathway process, an
understanding what skills need to be in place if they're going to become
a doctor, a nurse, a health system administrator," says Dwight
Lassiter, project manager for all programs linking Hopkins with Dunbar
High School. "We want to help them start thinking about what they
might be interested in. Do they like working in labs? In patient care?
In pharmacy? In emergency medicine?"
Roughly 20 volunteer mentors are currently in the program, a number
that Lassiter would like to see increase in the months and years ahead.
"We're looking for individuals of all races, creeds and colors
to serve as mentors," Lassiter says. "And we're looking for
new and different career paths, perhaps in offices and laboratories
where they may have never thought about mentoring young students."
An ambitious effort is under way to track the progress of BOND TO BOND
students as they proceed through college and into adulthood. Roughly
40 percent of all Dunbar students go on to college, Lassiter says. All
six Dunbar members of the first two BOND TO BOND cohorts are in college,
he says. All eight of this year's cohort are planning to enroll in college
Currently, mentors are matched in groups of three with groups of six
or seven students. In addition to regular phone calls and meetings,
the mentors offer job shadowing sessions and participate with mentees
in community service projects. They've also been known to throw bowling
parties and organize pizza get-togethers.
"It's fulfilling," says another BOND TO BOND mentor, Angellita
Ikejiani, who is a desk services representative at the Johns Hopkins
Outpatient Center. "There's just nothing in the world like a child
looking at you and saying thank you. That means more than anything."
"I've been with Angellita for three years now," says Dunbar
senior Javonna Stephens. "From the first time I met her, I knew
that I was going to like her-we have a lot in common. She's always been
real interested in trying to help me decide what I want to be."
A sophomore when she first entered BOND TO BOND, Stephens wanted to
be an Ob/Gyn physician. Now, she's leaning towards becoming a pharmacist
or a neonatal nurse. She plans to attend Hampton University next fall.
"I feel like this has been a really good program for us,"
she says. "It's not all academic; they have fun stuff, too. But
the big thing is that they really try to help you."
For information on the BOND TO BOND program, call the office of Dwight
Lassiter at 410-502-5963. For information on the partnership between Johns
Hopkins HealthCare and North Glen Elementary, contact Maura Walden at