The Cohort of Champions training initiative is the next step in preparing our African-American young men and women for the future and to develop a trained, qualified and ready workforce.
BY SKYLA LUCKEY, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — Thirty-six youth graduated with leadership and life skills from the Cohort of Champions training program Thursday, July 14, at the Enoch Davis Center.
The City of St. Petersburg launched the Cohort of Champions (COC) in 2016 under the umbrella of the My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper initiative. The signature program was designed to offer support by way of educational, entrepreneurial, workforce and enrichment training opportunities for young African-American males ages 12-24.
Program Coordinator Carlos Daniels told The Weekly Challenger that the training first began geared toward minority young men due to the gun violence in the city.
“Throughout the six-week program, we bring in professionals from all over St. Pete who talk to these young men about how to get into these jobs, and then the young men see themselves having a professional career one day,” Daniels said.
The program has since expanded to include young women.
St. Pete police, firefighters, entrepreneurs, and financial employees were some of the many professionals who spoke to the class this summer.
“Students learned how to purchase a house and build facilities,” Daniels explained. “They learned how to create a business. We don’t want to build a program that is just about having fun. We want it to be about them gaining life skills they might not learn elsewhere.”
A few students said that with the training they’ve received, they have more job options and a brighter future.
“I’m now looking forward to the future,” Khalfani Caldwell, 16, said. “Before I got here, I wasn’t worried about my future path. Ever since I’ve been here, they’ve been giving us a lot of future options to look at, and now I kind of see what I want to do when I get older.”
Khalfani said he wants to work in sports medicine. At the graduation ceremony, he read an original poem that focused on a crime-free life and living the life he dreamt of through hard work.
The program seems to be a confidence booster for its students. Seventeen-year-old Christopher Mooney said he benefited greatly from the mentoring he has received.
“I was struggling a lot in middle school and with other life issues like being bullied a lot,” Christopher said. “I just felt down, and one day Mr. Carlos came up to me and said: ‘You should try the program.’ So, I did, and I stayed here because they’re like a second family to me. It’s been cool getting to meet other people and learn about jobs. It filled up a lot of confidence in me, and I’m working a job now.”
Christopher wrote a rap about staying disciplined and working hard to better his future and shared it with attendees last Thursday evening.
Richard Prince, a native of St. Pete, works as the manager of Cohort of Champions.
“I can understand the demographics, some of the situations that they go through,” Prince explained. “For me, it’s about giving back. I want to make sure that everything’s running well. And more than anything, to make sure the young people feel safe and have an opportunity to learn things that will help them advance professionally.”
Prince said something commonly seen with their students is displacement. Not always to homelessness but because of family dynamics that can lead to a single grandmother taking custody of her grandson, and he doesn’t have a strong male role model.
Eckerd College gifted used bikes to the students at their end-of-the-year celebration.
Cohorts of Champions is a year-long program. Thirty is the max capacity for students in each class, Daniels said. A waiting list of 20 existed for the program after allowing six extra attendees. The staff does hope to expand space for more students soon.
The program is free, and the next class begins in August. For more information about the program and registration, contact Carlos Daniels at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 727-893-7885.