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Gantt motivates students

By Kathy Chaffin
kchaffin@salisburypost.com
Harvey Gantt, the first African-American mayor of Charlotte, spoke at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College Thursday for a program sponsored by the Men Inspiring Success Through Education and Role Modeling (M.I.S.T.E.R) Club.
Gantt talked about motivation, leadership and success.
“A leader has to have some kind of grandiose notion that they can make the world better,” he said, encouraging M.I.S.T.E.R. members, advisers and guests to look around them and see what they can do to make a difference in someone’s life.
Gantt’s appearance was just one of several activities planned by M.I.S.T.E.R., which was started last year with a Male Minority Mentoring program grant from the N.C. Community College System, according to Gary Bigelow, dean of industrial and engineering technologies at the North Campus off Jake Alexander Boulevard and one of the program’s advisers.
When the state budget shortfall did not allow for continued funding this year, he said, the program was placed under the Student Government Association as a club.
Last year, there were only two or three participants. But this year, the club has 37 students on the roster and 12 active members who attend every meeting.
Bigelow said M.I.S.T.E.R. provides a collaborative learning group for minority males. Because of their environments, he said minority males have different pressures than other males.
Some stem from the historic discrimination that still exists in today’s world, he said, while some come from growing up in homes without a father figure.
“We’re finding more than anything that these students have a lot of frustration but never really have an outlet,” Bigelow said. During the Civil Rights movement, there were lots of arenas were they could discuss issues, he said, “but since then, we really don’t have an avenue for minorities.”
Members of the club have bonded and offer support to each other. When one member who had lost his job and was on the verge of dropping out of school didn’t show up for a meeting, Bigelow said, another member went to his house and talked him into discussing his problems with the club.
The student ended up sharing with his fellow members and advisers about losing his job and not having enough money to repair his car to get to classes. Another member who is in the automotive program offered to have his car fixed. “We pooled together $60 or $70 to buy the parts,” Bigelow said.
Another student offered to try to get him a job where he worked, and he ended being hired. “The manager told him that one of the reasons he was selected was because he had the M.I.S.T.E.R. program listed on the application,” he said.
The program “pulled together a team that is actually motivational for each other to keep them in school,” Bigelow said. When one student needs a ride, for example, he’ll call one of the advisers, who will send out a text message to the other members to see if anyone can pick him up.
“It’s building a brotherhood,” Bigelow said, “and we’re expecting that to continue to grow and get larger.”
Bigelow said the club even took in a man from the homeless shelter as a member and helped secure the funds for him to go to school.
M.I.S.T.E.R meets every two weeks, though members have decided they want to meet weekly. Bigelow said he and the other advisers took 10 members three weeks ago to a Minority Male Mentoring conference at the Research Triangle Park.
There were about 700 people there, he said, and the Rowan-Cabarrus members got really motivated to do more community service projects.
“They’re wanting to go out and feed the homeless during the Christmas season,” he said. Another project they’re considering is helping elderly residents with chores such as raking leaves.
Some of their past projects include helping build a Habitat for Humanity house in Concord and playing basketball with members of the Boys Club in Concord.
Bigelow said the idea to invite Gantt to speak came from fellow adviser Fred Loving, an air conditioning, heating and refrigeration instructor. Loving grew up with Gantt’s children, he said, and the former mayor offered to do it pro bono.
To show their appreciation, Bigelow said, his father, artist Willie R. Bigelow of Durham, did a painting of Gantt and donated it to the club to present to him.
Other M.I.S.T.E.R. advisers include Kao Vang, head of the construction management program at Rowan-Cabarrus, and Larry Davis, an instructor in the electronics engineering technology program.
Contact Kathy Chaffin at 704-797-4249.

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