It’s Friday morning at Atlanta Technical College. The hallways are lined with volunteers, gathered for the African-American Partnership’s (AAP) Day of Service.
The volunteers’ mission today: encourage and inspire a future generation of African-American leaders to learn more about careers related to Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM).
AAP, an affinity group from United Way of Greater Atlanta, has been committed to positively impacting the community since 2000. Promoting student achievement for middle school and high school students is the cause the group advocates for primarily.
Ovie Mughelli, former All-Pro fullback for the Atlanta Falcons and current board member for United Way of Greater Atlanta, stands amongst the crowd of gathered volunteers. He’s been selected to deliver a word of encouragement before the day’s event begins.
“Don’t run sideways,” says Mughelli. “Run at the problem. Run at the adversity. Run at that challenge.”
He wears this message close to his chest.
Before his father became a successful doctor, Mughelli and his family had to first survive the financial trials of his father’s medical school program. During this time, he and his siblings relied upon Spam for food and shared a single-sized bedroom.
In the NFL, adversity reared its head as a Ray Lewis-sized dilemma.
Getting knocked down, both financially and physically, was all a part of the process though.
Through hard work and determination, Mughelli endured a trying childhood and received a scholarship to attend Wake Forest University, where he earned a degree in health and exercise science.
After graduating, he weathered hard knocks from Ray Lewis and other defensive powerhouses and was selected to two different All-Pro teams during his NFL career.
And while hard work was key, he emphasizes that he didn’t do it alone.
“I’m here because of my mentors,” says Mughelli. “I’m here because of the coaches, the teachers, the pastors, the friends, my parents who all poured into me.”
And that’s what has brought volunteers out for today’s Day of Service. It’s an opportunity to be the mentor that a child needs to perceive and achieve greatness themselves one day.
The mentees have gathered from all over the Atlanta area, arriving by the bus load from local organizations like the YMCA, Boys and Girls Club of Metro Atlanta, Raising Expectations Incorporated, Atlanta Cares Mentoring and, notably, the University System of Georgia’s African-American Male Initiative (AAMI).
According to the University System of Georgia, the Initiative is dedicated to providing “an integrated program model of academic and social tools that support students around adopting a positive mindset to successfully complete classes, elevate their cumulative GPAs, matriculate through each academic level and graduate.”
In the year 2018, AAMI bolstered its efforts by incorporating a mentorship component into the work that the initiative sought to accomplish. Combined with AAP’s commitment to promoting student achievement, the Day of Service was a perfect fit to accelerate both organizations’ goals.
The mentors for the Day of Service are established, working professionals. Many come from backgrounds in engineering, accounting, finance and business management.
One volunteer, Temika Jatta, is an employee for the local natural gas provider, Gas South. She believes the Day of Service is a beneficial experience in more ways than one.
“I love helping people,” says Jatta. “But the opportunity to influence or help a young adult who is African American to understand that there is more to life than just what they see in front of them is good for everybody.”
Over the course of the day, the volunteers guided their mentees through various workshops curated by local Atlanta businesses and individuals who have already found success in the STEAM field. These individuals can be the guiding light for burgeoning young professionals who haven’t been exposed to these career opportunities yet.
“It creates that whole perfect utopia,” says Jatta.
Some of the workshops included representatives from Adobe, AT&T, Google, Microsoft, Salesforce, Georgia Power and even United Way of Greater Atlanta’s creative team.
Workshops covered the principles of design, careers in digital technology and marketing, financial literacy, tech-enabled solutions and more.
Once the workshops finished up, the students and their mentors were then allowed to participate in a STEAM-oriented career expo. Attendees were able to brush shoulders with robotics equipment and tools for design that are used in everyday work for STEAM professionals.
As the day came to a close, Mughelli again took the stage to leave the Day of Service’s participants with a powerful reminder.
“Don’t be afraid when somebody tries to block your path and tells you, ‘You can’t do it,’” says Mughelli. “Build the mind of a champion and you’ll be just that.”