When the New York City Housing Authority and the Department of Youth and Community Development needed the right partner to revive Ingersoll Community Center in Fort Greene, they chose University Settlement. That was six years ago, and today it’s a cornerstone center serving thousands each year. Shawn Doyle was one of the neighbors who showed up six years ago to play basketball, and he’s become an invaluable leader and staff member.
The Wall Street Journal wrote about one of Ingersoll’s teens, whom Shawn mentors, and his path to success. Read the full story below, or on the WSJ’s website now!
You can also read more about Shawn and his journey in our annual report.
FOR ONE YOUNG NEW YORKER, MENTORS BRING A BRIGHTER FUTURE
By Leslie Brody | July 1, 2016
Just in time for his graduation from a Brooklyn high school this week, D’Angelo Rembert endured an hour of pain to get a tattoo.
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams,” it says in script on his forearm.
Like thousands of young New Yorkers who donned caps and gowns in recent days, this wiry 17-year-old walked a rough road to a diploma. His story is a testament to the power of mentors.
Known as Dee Dee, he grew up in public housing in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene area. His father wasn’t around but texts him once in a while. It would be nice, Dee Dee said, to have his dad come from South Carolina to see him graduate from City Polytechnic High School of Engineering, Architecture and Technology.
“I’m going to try really hard to come, son,” his dad texted last week.
“Try harder,” Dee Dee wrote back.
He knew some people would be there for sure: his mother, the principal who dragged him to Saturday classes, the guidance counselor who encouraged him to apply for college, and his basketball coach from a nearby community center.
“A lot of people helped me get here,” said Dee Dee, who has big dimples when he smiles. “They were constantly on my back to make sure I got my work done.”
Mentoring, especially for young African-Americans, has been pushed by leaders all the way up to President Barack Obama, who got an assist from Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors this spring. Their lighthearted public-service video showed the president giving the basketball star tips on polishing his résumé and even shooting hoops.
Dee Dee found one of his mentors, 33-year-old Shawn Doyle, at the Ingersoll Community Center. The city-funded center provides a haven to children in the Ingersoll Houses, a New York City Housing Authority complex where police said three men were shot dead in one particularly violent weekend last September.
For the past six years, Dee Dee has gone to the center almost every day to talk, do homework and play basketball. He calls it “my second home” and now works as a counselor at its camp.
Mr. Doyle, a basketball coach at the center, remembers Dee Dee back when he was a “little skinny child with big ears and a bald head” who used to get picked on.
“I played the role of big brother,” Mr. Doyle said. “Me and D’Angelo have been through puberty, girls, when his grades weren’t the best, when he can’t talk to his mom.”
At City Polytechnic, where most of the roughly 450 students are poor and black, Principal Yusuf Muhammad tried to watch out for Dee Dee too. Mr. Muhammad keeps a book in his office, “Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America,” that shows brutal images of black men killed in the 19th and 20th centuries.
When students get into trouble, he shows it as evidence of their forebears’ suffering and the need to pursue civil rights.
“You come from people who gave up their lives for you,” the principal tells them. “This is why we have to work, this is why we have to improve our communities.”
The principal had to get tough with Dee Dee once, suspending him for five days last fall after a scuffle in the cafeteria. Dee Dee says he has learned to control his temper better since then.
He finished an accelerated high-school program in three years and is heading to SUNY Broome Community College in Binghamton.
Its small size appealed to him, and he might try for a four-year degree elsewhere after completing its two-year program. Only 15% of its students graduate on time.
Unlike the 81% of SUNY Broome’s first-time college-goers who need remedial courses, Dee Dee qualified for college-level classes. But on a visit a week ago, he was dismayed to discover that after getting tuition grants, he still has to borrow $7,111 to pay for the first year.
“When the lady said he had to take out another loan, I saw his heart breaking,” said his mother, Nicole Rembert. A 39-year-old single mother of four, she lost her job as a security guard last fall.
She has been looking for work and hopes to help him pay his bills. “He’s the one I most depend on,” she said.
The people Dee Dee depends on gathered for his graduation on Monday in a gym decorated with black and yellow balloons. Midway through the ceremony, Mr. Muhammad stood up to announce the Principal’s Award.
“Every year I give out one award to a student who may not have the highest grades in the world and who started off really struggling and who worked hard and who made it,” he said. “I am extremely proud of this young man…we’ve got your back. We love you.”
He called out the name: D’Angelo Rembert.
The room burst into applause. Dee Dee beamed.
“Baby, you did it!” shouted his mom, in tears.
Dee Dee’s father never made it there. He couldn’t be reached for comment.
But Mr. Doyle, his mentor from the community center, came to watch. He said he offered to pay for Dee Dee’s father’s transportation north, but unfortunately it didn’t work out.
“But we’re here,” Mr. Doyle said. “We’re here.”
Photo credit Steve Remich