Donovan Jones-Myers was 15-years-old when his aunt invited him to attend his first Rites of Passage ceremony.
He enjoyed watching initiates as they symbolically crossed over into manhood.
“There was a rich history and culture there. The initiates came out with their stepping. There was the relationship between their mentors and their parents. I just felt a strong bond and camaraderie in the community in general, it felt nice,” said Jones-Myers. “It was a cool thing to experience for me. And I thought I want to do that for myself as well.”
Two years later Jones-Myers, a senior at Waconia High School, is preparing to cross that same threshold as one of 10 African-American initiates in the 2019 Rites of Passage (ROP) Community Celebration hosted March 9 by the Minneapolis Chapter of Jack and Jill, Inc. at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis, 1300 Nicollet Mall.
Upon entering the ROP program six months ago, Jones-Myers recalled being curious, determined, and multi-faceted. He will be introduced to society by family, mentors, elders, program officials and community members, as a man that is curious, yet fulfilled, more guided in his goals, successful and ready. He will be joined by his co-initiates, Ahijah Adams (St. Paul Central), Julian Cavin (Maranatha Christian Academy), Jacob Johnson (Champlin Park), Kamau Kokayi-Taylor (Minnehaha Academy), Keemarr McKinney-VanBuren (Park Center), Jaden Morton (Maranatha Christian Academy), Hilton Patterson (Champlin Park), Alan Rosier (Coon Rapids) and Julian Wright (DeLaSalle).
ROP is an annual six-month leadership experience for African-American high school seniors in the Twin Cities. The program is based on the seven principles of Nguzu Saba (African heritage), Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith). These principles are relayed to the initiates through a curriculum focused on leadership development, personal brand building, entrepreneurship and financial management. Initiates engaged in community service by volunteering at the Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery and serving as ushers at the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast. They also participated in fundraising efforts of which part of the proceeds will go to a charity of initiate’s choice.
In the final stage of the curriculum, initiates complete a project that includes pitching business ideas to a panel of entrepreneurs. Mentors from the area guide and direct initiates through the curriculum and passage process.
Anton Vincent, ROP activities co-chair, has served as a leader in the program for the past 10 years in different capacities. He deems the program’s work as critical in transforming lives.
“It is important for the young men to participate for a variety of reasons. First, self-knowledge is power,” said Vincent. “Our very first engagement with the initiates begins with a 360 survey. Most kids have very little perception and appreciation of how others view them. Second, the ability to have a mentor you can reach out to, learn from and confide in can create lifelong bonds and great networking. Lastly, the precepts we teach broadens the initiates perspective, offers real skills on how to prepare for success and holds the initiates accountable for results.”
Jones-Myers is familiar with accountability. He holds a 3.97 GPA, is a member of the National Honor Society, and he is also a member of his school’s robotics team, marching band, jazz band, regular band and art club. However, ROP program filled a gap for him that helped him aspire to new levels of achievement.
“I haven’t necessarily had a lot of male role models; African-American role models,” said Jones-Myers. “I felt very fulfilled. I felt a swarm of strong momentum from all the different mentors and chair people. It feels very welcoming and that’s something I enjoyed. Also, (the program showed) the importance of working with community. You help yourself out by preparing for things and being successful in your life. And (you) carry on that success in your own home life and community life.”
The hope is that initiates will carry lessons they have learned from ROP in their various paths, and the journey will be more informed and enlightened. They have already passed the test of commitment and dedication to building a future of promise.
“This is a very eclectic group of young men,” said Vincent. “We have artists, multi-sport athletes, musicians, STEM-focused kids and future entrepreneurs. They worked well together and took the experience seriously. They did all of this while in the midst of participating in very busy senior years.”
The longevity of ROP program and the success of its participants is a testament to its effectiveness. This year marks the program’s 21st year, and more than 300 men have participated over the years and gone on to succeed in various occupations in business, academia, science, professional sports and the arts.
Myers-Jones strongly encourages other African-American males to consider becoming an initiate.
“They should definitely join this program mainly because it is very helpful for developing you as a person, as a community leader, and as a leader in general in your life with other people,” said Myers-Jones. “It can help you work with different kinds of executives, mentors, and leaders to guide you in different paths you would be interested in. You get to explore by interacting with these different people what it means to be in these positions. You get guidance and help to get to these desired positions that you would want to do. It’s very beneficial.”