Continuing a Legacy

October 31, 2016

Wright, left, with his younger brother Chase.

Since coming to Stonehill as a first-year, Jermel Wright ’18, a Healthcare Administration major, has spent most Monday evenings mentoring 7th and 8th-grade students at Bigelow Middle School in Newton, MA. The afterschool program, which he runs, is both a labor of love and an opportunity to pay it forward: Wright went through the same mentorship program at Bigelow when he was their age.

At the time, Wright was one of the first students to join the Keystone Partners Mentoring Program, run by two members of West Newton's Myrtle Baptist Church, David Carr and Howard Smith. Their weekly meetings offered 7 to 10 students of color the opportunity to come together, share their experiences, and receive some much-needed guidance along with occasional tough love.

Carr and Smith boosted Wright's socially conscious mindset and exceptional work ethic. Their influence, along with his mother's leadership, vision, and determination, empowered him to succeed in school and life.

“I really appreciate it because we learned so much from them. We used to talk about everything from social justice issues and things that were going on in the black community, all the way to ‘what colleges do you have in mind .’”
Jermel Wright speaking of his early mentors, David Carr and Howard Smith.

Level Up Mentoring

Jermel Wright, center, with students from the Level Up Mentoring Program.

Keystone made a huge difference for Wright. A Dorchester native, he spent 13 years of daily bus rides to and from Newton for school as part of the Massachusetts Department of Education’s METCO program, a voluntary inter-district school assignment program dedicated to increasing diversity and reducing racial isolation. By joining the program, Wright chose to be one of a handful of students of color in a predominantly white school district, which made the safe space created by the Keystone Program especially impactful.

“One of the messages [Carr and Smith] sent to me was: ‘they can take your body away, but what they can never take is your mind.’ That is something that I’ve told my kids as well because it’s always resonated with me,” said Wright. “No matter what happens, they can’t take your education away from you, they can’t take your degree away from you. When you go to school, that’s going to be what separates you from the masses – your mind, your intellect.”

While Wright was in high school, however, Smith passed away, and the program was discontinued. At the time, Wright wrestled with the fact that without Keystone, younger METCO students didn’t have a lifeline at such a critical moment in their development. He made a decision: When he started as a first-year at Stonehill, Wright called his former principal and asked to re-start the program.

From then on, Wright has diligently carried on Keystone’s legacy, albeit under a new name – the Level Up Mentoring Program – supporting a group of 7 to 10 METCO students each week. He tries to provide the same guidance and leadership he received as a young man and works to introduce role models and skills the students can take with them through high school, college, and careers. Above all, Wright pushes his mentees to take their education seriously and to plan for their future carefully.

“I know the position that they’re in right now, and I believe that I have the ability to help them stay on the right path. … A lot of people just need some guidance; I know I did when I was at that age.”
Jermel Wright

Balance and Preparation

Wright practices what he preaches and is a leader not only in the community but also on campus and on the football field, where he plays defensive tackle. It was football that brought Wright to Stonehill and he carefully balances athletics with his schoolwork.

“You just have to prioritize what you want now or what you want the most,” said Wright. “You sacrifice TV time, Netflix, all of that… You’re trying to prepare yourself and set yourself up for the future that you dream of.”

Along with Wright’s work ethic and goal-driven mindset, he believes Stonehill plays the lead role in setting him up for a successful future. The College's culture of public service and its academic structure emphasizing small class sizes and one-on-one interactions with peers and faculty are all vital to him.

“Not every college allows you to have a one-on-one conversation with your professor about networking, LinkedIn, and potential opportunities,” said Wright. “I didn’t want big lecture hall classes where I didn’t know my professor and there’s four hundred kids and I’m just a number.”

“When it comes to Stonehill I really think it’s like a family – everyone that I meet here is always smiling, people are holding doors. Maximizing my education here is going to put me in a position to succeed in whatever I do.”
Jermel Wright

Now a junior, Wright is assessing his future options. He sees significant issues with our healthcare system and chooses Healthcare Administration as a major because he wants to help craft a system that views health care as a right, not a privilege.

“Our healthcare is 37th in the world right now, and we spend the most out of any other industrialized nation,” said Wright. “I don’t understand how as the United States we can claim ourselves to be the best country in the world, but people are choosing between meeting a copay and putting food on the table.”

A Mother's Example

Jermel Wright with his mother, Marie Gracisse.

According to Wright, his drive to do better and make a positive impact on others comes directly from his upbringing. Specifically, he credits his mother for instilling the values and determination that have made him so successful to this point.

“I see her effort and the work she puts in. And one day I want to pay her back," said Wright. "So that’s really been my motivation–my family–in terms of what I can achieve and it’s just about taking a step each day in the right direction… ensuring that everything I do is progressing toward a better future for myself, my family, and the family that I eventually want to have.”

When he was 13, Wright's house burnt down. Seeing everything his mother had to do – moving three or four times before his freshman year of high school – to keep the family steady and to keep putting food on the table, instilled a fire in him. Wright is determined to ensure his family is never again put in a position where they're struggling to make ends meet.

“A lot of people just don’t have that confidence in themselves to achieve what they want to achieve. It’s in everyone, it’s just a matter of how you’re going to find it – what’s going to trigger it," said Wright. "For me it was that fire in my house. After that happened, I knew that I had to realize real fast what I was going to do, how I was going to get to college, how I was going to make things work. Once you find that fire, once you find that passion, once you get on that direction, as long as you have a little support along the way, the opportunities are endless.”

Jermel Wright is creating those opportunities not just for himself, but also for others.