ST. CHARLES COUNTY, Mo. — A new program in St. Charles is helping minority students achieve their goals of higher education.
The Men of Color initiative is matching St. Charles Community College students with mentors and resources to come out on top. The school is now accepting scholarship applications for the next round of participants.
Behind TJ Riley's glasses and confident demeanor is an 18-year-old who has a reason to be better.
"My father is the biggest reason for that. He's always been one of my biggest supporters and has kept me going. Just the 'I want you to have a better future for yourself than I've ever had,'" TJ Riley explained.
He is the first in his family to go to college. When he got to St. Charles Community College, he discovered the Men of Color program.
"I feel like it’s one of the core reasons I've been successful,” Riley said.
Students receive $1,000 scholarships. They're matched with professional mentors and come together each month to learn things like financial management and how to get through college.
"We learn how to manage our time. We learn how to email our professors, ask them how successful we are in their classes. That helped quite a bit,” he continued.
It comes as last year, only 243 students at the college were Black. That's about 19% of the student population.
College officials say it's not just about getting them here but keeping them here, helping students overcome the natural barriers of day-to-day college life.
"It's no secret that enrollment for our Black males is not as high as they should be. However, I think this is an opportunity for us to create a financial pathway so they can be successful,” said program advisor Chris Cross.
In many ways, Cross is more than an advisor. He's a friend who cheers them on.
"I come from a small town in Arkansas and I didn't get to see a lot of positive Black men in the community who were 'educated' so I'd never foreseen myself doing it…I'm a firm believer that you have to see it to believe it,” he said.
In other words, see it, believe it, become it.
For TJ, finishing his first year in college on the Dean's List is more than a step in the right direction. His dad couldn't be more proud.
"He's said that so much and it means a lot to me. He just keeps saying how I'm doing this all on my own and I've found all of these scholarships and I have my plan laid out,” Riley said.
"Just pretty much helping them change the narrative in within not only themselves but also too within the community of what Black men can do or men of color can do within the community,” Cross added.
About a dozen students are in the program. Men of Color is recruiting for its next wave of minority students who want to attend St. Charles Community College. You can find the scholarship application here.
The scholarship application deadline is Friday.