Jason Manigo, a Brother to Brother mentor, tying neckties with mentees

Justin Moore and Parker Brooks are two boys with a lot in common. They’re both into sports (Moore really likes baseball, citing the Blue Jays and Angels as his teams, with Parker a lover of LA, citing the Lakers and the Ball family has his favorites), both middle schoolers, and both attempting to navigating their transition from juvenile to manhood without a father figure. Santa Monica College’s Brother to Brother mentor program has helped the boys and many others like them adjust to this period in their lives.

Brother to Brother is a program designed to mentor young black and Latino male students, pairing up mentees from John Adams Middle school (JAMS) students with college student mentors from Santa Monica College (SMC). The program was created in 2016 between a close working partnership between JAMS assistant principal Dr. Joseph Eure and SMC counselor Dr. Paul Jimenez, with Jimenez adding Black Collegians’ Sherri Bradford and lead for Adelante Maria Martinez being instrumental in supporting and developing programs like these to support students.

Jimenez says mentees referred aren’t “at-risk” but considers them as having “something going on” that others might not see or may consider out of the norm. Examples given are lonesome students, considered “troublemakers,” kids just looking for a place to belong. A misunderstood, “good, diverse crew of kids.”

Mentors meet with eight weeks at a time every Thursday for about an hour, it’s goal to “demystify” the college experience and most importantly, provide a positive male role model to kids that may not have one, like Moore and Brooks.

“My real dad passed away and I had another father figure … and he passed away,” Brooks said. “So just getting someone to show me how to be an actual man, it’s really good.”

Brooks and Moore say they’ve learned crucial life lessons via their mentors through Brother to Brother, learning about college, potential careers, and other intangibles.

“Its grown men, they know what’s going to happen [in college],” Moore said. “They teach you life stuff, too. Being brave, asking for help … Girls too. How to treat and respect them, things to do and not do.”

While mentees learn lessons from the program, mentors do, too.

Walther Perez, a former mentor, found the program enriching for both himself and his mentee.

Born and raised in South Central Los Angeles, Perez was a lot like Moore, Brooks, and others in the program — disenfranchised and without a consistent male role model in his life. His father wasn’t in the family picture and his older brother worked full-time to pay the bills and help with rent, leaving Perez without “the father figure I wish I could’ve had.”

To be the person he wished he could’ve had, Perez joined Brother to Brother.

“It’s been one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had,” Perez said. former mentor said. “You advise these kids how to be ethical, responsible young men but as you’re doing that, teaching them life lessons, you realize they’re teaching you life lessons, too. In a sense, these kids mentor you as you mentor them.”

Perez says leadership from Jimenez is “very particular” in how to pair mentors and mentees, saying he pairs up who can learn most from each other. He shares the varying experiences he’s had, with one mentee wanting to be MMA fighter Conor McGregor when he grows up and the other the antithesis of this, so painfully shy he could barely speak.

“One’s not harder than the other,” Perez said, adding that through the hour sessions consisting of different themes such as previewing college, accountability, respect, and “trying to give them a sense of who they are, who they can be,” mentees come out of the program completely changed. The McGregor mentee is no longer aggressive and causing problems, the quiet mentee who’d whisper his conversations to Perez now speaking aloud, confident with his chin up.

“It helps in ways you don’t know,” Perez said. “It’s been almost therapeutic for me. I know if I had this program growing up, I’d make a lot better choices… and a lot better mistakes,” Perez said with a laugh. “

Dr. Jimenez continues to shepherd the program and the students, saying his biggest dreams for the program are for the students and facilitators “create a community that continues through the years”, hoping to see a continued symbiosis between mentors and mentees benefits.

Jimenez shares a Brother to Brother anecdote, detailing a mentor session in which the mentors were to teach their mentees how to tie a necktie. Turns out, the mentor didn’t know how to tie a necktie, so his mentee taught the mentor and other mentees how to do so. Brothers helping brothers.