Header image: Bloom Project 2018 graduates: Desmond Alston, Carlton Mayne, Darius Alexander, and Aaric Hoye [PHOTOS: COURTESY]
Black men will not participate in one-on-one mentoring because: “why mentor one child when you can do so to a whole bunch as a sports coach or as a neighborhood mentor?” So concluded a survey that Fort Wayne-born Arnetta Scruggs had read, a suggestion from a friend. “And that is when it hit me that group mentoring is needed,” she said.
Using her past work experiences with mentoring organizations as a template, Scruggs created the nonprofit The Bloom Project that provides group mentoring, service learning, character development, career exploration, and college prep for young males, ages 12-18.
These are young men who are just renown for sports but have an interest or activity, participate in music, drawing, or sales, like Dahzon Ware, who was featured in the Fort Wayne Ink Spot’s entrepreneur profile page, Fort Wayne’s Very Own, in the last issue.
Scruggs, a Wayne High School graduate, received her undergrad in social work, with a mass communications minor, from Tennessee State University in Nashville, and Social Work Master’s from IUPUI in Indianapolis, which is where Bloom was launched from in 2014; the Fort Wayne satellite office opened a year later.
“I thought about the man that influenced me the most, it was my Maternal Grandfather, Mr. Ezell Stephens,” Scruggs said. His nickname was “Bloom.”
The Bloom Project has four signature events/programs. The career-focused program Project King helps to improve social skills and relationships of young men through service projects, college tours, and monthly discussions. The FREE workshops are held every first Saturday of the month at the Renaissance YMCA. College and career preparatory Royal MENtality, meeting every Thursday for five weeks offers scholarship and job shadowing, college fairs and tours, and networking opportunities; participants must be at least a sophomore in high school and/or 16 years old; it’s a partnership with East Allen University. Kings Feast Symposium, Bloom’s prestige annual July event held at Parkview Health’s Mirror Center, exists for participants to attend seminars and a networking luncheon with professional men in the community. Last year, Bloom Project brought in Andre Ebron, Dean of Culture at Promise Schools in Detroit, Michigan; the year before that, Dallas Cowboys’ Jaylon Smith spoke to the kids.
In 2011, Scruggs created Kings Feast, a precursor for Bloom Project (and the Kings Feast Symposium) that created the programming for the organization to exist. Held first in Fort Wayne, business attire was a requirement for the young men in attendance who connected with business professionals and community leaders while learning table etiquette. This went on for a couple of years in Fort Wayne. Sajatta Wright and her son, Aamani Wright Thompson, attended the first Kings Feast. Thompson, not really talkative at the time, got strong and couldn’t stop talking about it. He asked his mom when Ms. Arnetta was going to start a Bloom Project in Fort Wayne. (Scruggs and Wright went to Village Woods Middle School together, but, in high school, Ms. Arnetta had to be different and graduated from Wayne while Ms. Sajatta is a Harding alumnus.)
Wright became the volunteer site director for the Fort Wayne office of the Bloom Project; she oversees a small staff that recruits kings and mentors. The Bloom Project has about 50 to 60 young men registered. On an average, the Project King discussion group, meeting on Saturdays, will see somewhere between 15 to 20 young men. The demographics of the Fort Wayne group are roughly 90 to 95% African-American. Bloom Project activities fall within the school year for the most part, from August to May.
Bloom’s fourth calendar-year program, dropped December 9, 2018, is Expressions of Gratitude, a dinner event that honors their community partners while “crowning” senior young men who are graduating from the program. Ticket sales went toward funding scholarships that were awarded at the dinner. This year’s graduates include Darius Alexander, Carlton Mayne, Aaric Hoye, and Desmond Alston.
Expressions of Gratitude is the type of Bloom event that Wright is expecting to cry during, as she’s known as the group crier; it will serve as a family reunion of sorts, a gathering of many of the Bloom Project young men, while honoring graduates. Emotions were lit; for Wright, she sees these kids as one of her own kids. “A lot of the young men don’t have support they need at home,” Wright said. She described single moms unable who are unable to provide complete attention for their sons, leaving unintended gaps in time spent. “The [Bloom Project] tries and fill in the gaps.”
For information about The Bloom Project, hit up their website: BloomProjectInc.org.