Many teenage boys spend their summer break with their faces firmly planted in front of their cell phones, avoiding at all costs anything that can be construed as work.
But not Khalil Williams and Gabriel Edwards, both incoming sophomores at Gregori High School. Earlier this month, they flew to Philadelphia for the Grand Conclave Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, a leadership conference. There, the boys received a foundation on how to build success through life, including helpful workshops, mentor guidance and tips on how to kick-start their careers.
Accompanying them was John Ervin, founder of Project UPLIFT, in which the boys are active members.
“Project UPLIFT is a mentoring program that targets youths in the community ... and assists them in making better choices and navigating challenges,” Ervin said. “We’re really about being the caring and supportive adults in the community that … offer insight they can benefit from.”
Project UPLIFT helped Williams and Edwards qualify for the conference, where they and 98 other young men met and learned important life skills.
As an aspiring musician, Williams found the Omega Psi Phi meeting extremely motivating. In particular, there is one quote that stuck with him. “ ‘If it is to be, it is up to me,’ ” he recited, a smile coming to his face.
Williams acts, plays sports and likes to play R&B and jazz on his saxophone. Music is his passion. “(At the conference), we were taught about how to find your passion and make it into a career. … And there are certain times you have to take over and make it happen,” he said.
Edwards, too, found inspiration during the stay in Philadelphia.
“One workshop was about building a business from the ground up. It was very helpful,” he said. “I’ll use these lessons by taking it in … and be put in the right classes so I can be on the path I need.”
And what path is that? “My dream job would have to be something to do with marketing,” Edwards said. Yet he has many other interests and talents, as well. He plays basketball on the same team as Williams and attends many of Project UPLIFT’s workshops.
“Project UPLIFT is about helping the youth,” he said. “They’ll be there for you when you need them.”
Williams shared his admiration for UPLIFT as well. “I’m really grateful Omega Psi Phi and Project UPLIFT invited me to the conference. It was definitely worth it.”
“These are two young men with a lot of potential,” Ervin said of Williams and Edwards. “They represented Modesto very well. … I really think that they will be great leaders in our community.”