Twenty-five years ago, Deryl F. Bailey held an assembly where he spoke to every black male at Asheville High School in Asheville, NC.
While speaking to those young men, he made a personal decision to defeat the victimizing stereotypes surrounding African-American males in society. He began an enrichment program titled “Project: Gentlemen on the Move” for the purpose of empowering African-American male youths in schools and communities.
Bailey is currently an associate professor in the Department of Counseling and Human Development Services at the University of Georgia. He began this program in North Carolina after conducting research on the degrading stereotypes towards African-American males. According to national education statistics, they represent 32 percent of school suspensions and 30 percent of school expulsions. African-American male students also have a one-in-12 chance of graduating college, versus a one-in-four chance of becoming a high school dropout. Before Bailey began GOTM, he worked seven days a week as a high school counselor at AHS.
"In my eyes, I didn't seem to be making much of an impact on the daily lives of young men in the community," Bailey said.
What began as a weekly meeting with a single male student has grown into two youth programs that have followed him and his wife to Athen. The second youth program, Young Women Scholars, mirrors GOTM by offering the same mentoring services to young women. Together, the organizations are housed under an umbrella organization by the name of Empowered Youth Programs, or EYP.
The programs are application-based, however, Bailey is quick to state that everyone, including all races and age groups, are welcome to join. EYP currently mentors young people from grades k-12.
"The students we work with are recruited by word of mouth through local teachers, academic counselors, volunteers, parents and kids themselves who are part of the program," Bailey said.
Angie Moon deAvila is a parent of two EYP students and has been volunteering for the Baileys for nine years. One of the reasons she became involved is because she says EYP removes the invisible barrier between Athens-Clarke County and the university.
“The invisible barrier has to do with the hopes and dreams of kids,” Moon deAvila said. “While there are many excellent and highly dedicated professionals working with students, several professionals still develop the notion that some of these kids just aren't going to succeed and that they're never going to make it. The more I can surround my children with adults who are obsessed with their success, the higher the likelihood that the children will succeed and follow their dreams."
A big part of EYP is their Saturday Academy which involves certified teachers, graduate students and tutors to work with the students on their academics and personal development. Almost every Saturday during the academic year, the academy is held on the UGA campus in Aderhold Hall from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. It’s held on the UGA campus to eliminate the invisible barrier so the students don’t ever think they can't make it onto a college campus.
However, these youth enrichment programs go beyond academics. In addition to the Saturday Academy, Bailey also sponsors field trips and summer camps for his students. In past years they’ve gone to Washington D.C. and Sydney, Australia.
“It's almost an entire support system to help students academically as well as socially,” said Erick Hopkins, who has been volunteering with EYP for the past 11 years.
“It helps them get in the mindset for college readiness - if not college readiness, then at least something beyond high school,” he said. “[The Baileys] don't want high school to be that peak [for students] and then see them plateau. It's about constantly moving forward.”
Bailey serves as a father-figure to many of these students - even showing up at parent-teacher conferences or directly working with parents to instrumentally discipline them. He strives to be as interactive as possible.
“I call [the Baileys] frequently and I text them whenever I'm having problems at school,” Alexis Smith said.
Smith is a senior at EYP who has recently been accepted to Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville, Ga.
“Dr. Bailey will come to my school and meet with my principal,” she said. “He's not just limited to being available on Saturdays. He comes outside of this and helps you.”
For Bailey, it's about providing these young people with hope and ambition. He wants to empower them for anything and everything they may face in life. He sees them week after week and year after year in order to make the most of his time with them.
"It's all about making these students believe that by working with us, things will not only get better in the next year, but in the next week," Bailey said.
EYP is a program that is loved and sustained by many. Despite moving from state-to-state and encountering economic recessions, the program continues to thrive and make an impact after all this time.
“Without EYP, I probably would have failed and became someone I wouldn't have liked,” said Smith. “I would probably be a typical high school dropout and living in the streets. I'm really thankful for [the Baileys] and my mom for helping me to correct myself and my mistakes while furthering my education.”