Several men who were the beneficiaries of that program have spent the last year working to reinstate it and the impact is starting to take effect.
“When I was a student at the Prep, the A4 was at its peak and things were on full-throttle,” says Sherman Washington ’05, one of the leaders of the re-infused group. He was referring to events like Saturday “Kicking As” tutoring sessions, pre-Prep programs, family programs, and other bonding opportunities. “For me, the Prep was great but my introduction to it was through A4. Having people there to support me who looked like me and had an idea of what my experiences were was really important for me and my family.”
Alonzo Jones ’03 had a similar experience as a young man. “Because of A4, I already knew a bunch of other folks so the first day of school felt like I had already been there a month,” he says. “I didn’t feel an intimidation factor that a brown kid from a small grade school might have otherwise.”
For Jones’ classmate Daryl Lloyd ‘03, that A4 connection lasted all four years and then some. “A4 gave us all the community that provided an opportunity to thrive at the Prep,” he says. Lloyd was very active as a student: he was nationally ranked in speech and debate, editor in chief of the newspaper, President of the Black Culture Club, and as a student organized a service event that gave coats out to hundreds of kids. “All of that came back to me feeling like I had a core community that helped me feel safe and that was the mentors from A4. When I had challenging moments, that environment made it so you could feel safe and supported.”
These alums, and others like them, want the current and future generations of Prep students to have that same community. “Mr. Ratliff was always the north star for my ultimate mission, to be a better person for myself and others,” says Jones. “That’s why I am doing what I am doing. It’s much more than a passion project. I feel like I have a moral duty to see it through. If not me, then who else. I never feel like I am doing work with A4. It means so much to me.”
After Ratliff left the Prep in the mid 2000s, the program had fits and starts. While there were many successes, there was nothing quite like what Washington, Jones, and Lloyd experienced during their time at the Prep.
“When we started to talk to current students and families to learn their experiences, as well as very recent alumni, we were able to see a strong contrast to what our experience was like,” Lloyd says. “Many of the things that they had concerns about weren’t concerns of ours when we were at the Prep because of the A4. That confirmed the need for that level of support and we have tried to be the conduits to build those bridges and build community.”
Jones says the school’s administration has been extremely supportive of their efforts. “We have had terrific buy-in. For example, the three of us got together with Howie Brown ’99 to get more involved in admissions and that has gone very well. We might have opened some eyes to the Prep who might not have considered it before and it is mutually beneficial because then the students coming in are aware of A4 and how we can be a resource. Everyone with whom we have met at the Prep has said ‘absolutely, the guys need it’ so that has reinforced that we are right in our aggressive path to get things going.”
The A4 has also relaunched the student mentoring program, working with Anthony Bush, Director of Diversity and Engagement, and Dr. Chris Rupertus P ’24 to connect with the students. Athletic Director Dan DiBerardinis invited A4 members to a coaches meeting to ensure that coaches are aware of the group. A4 also hosted events to gather students and families of color to Prep Football and Soccer games with plans to continue that in the winter and spring.
“We have tried to meet the students where they are to cover as many bases as possible,” says Lloyd. “Wherever we can find the time to meet the students, we have done so.”
“They are not asking for much,” Washington says. “They really just want to use the network, which they didn’t know existed. The responsibility always lies with us to meet them where they are and help them feel comfortable enough to be in touch with us and trust us to share their struggles, etc. Many of our boys aren’t legacies so they can’t talk with their parents or uncles about that. As alumni, we can connect with them because we know the culture.”
Lloyd points to his recent mentoring of Bryce Jones ’21. Much like Lloyd himself, Jones was an extremely active student who was deciding between top-tier colleges. “Bryce met Sherman and Alonzo at a grocery giveaway service day and they put him in touch with me,” he says. “We talked once a week about things he had going on. At first, he was deciding between an HBCU and USC but then he got into UNC Chapel Hill and we discussed pros and cons. Bryce has wonderful parents and a great support system but he told me that what I was able to give him was the perspective of what a Prep alumnus has to deal with after graduation.”
While the group’s main mission is working with students, they have a secondary goal of bringing the alumni network together and are planning three alumni networking events this year. “This is new for A4 but came from the same conversation of meeting the students where they are and meeting young alumni,” says Lloyd. “Talking to alumni of color, it was across the board that they wanted to meet the other alumni of color from other generations. A few of us had networked among ourselves organically. We thought this was a good way of creating another touch point of connecting with alumni and bringing them back to the Prep.
Jones hopes that others like him, who were impacted by A4 during their Prep careers, reach out to see what they can do. “If you are reading this and were touched by A4 or had a positive experience, all we need is your time,” he says.“There is no financial commitment but we want alumni who are excited to help our younger generation and who are excited about what the A4 means and how they can help. If you are wondering, yes, we can use you.”
The group is excited about their future. “It all starts with leadership,” Washington says. “In his short time, Mr. Marinacci has been great. We feel included and thought of when decisions are being made. How can A4 be a part of this process, how can A4 benefit from this process? He sees the value in the success of A4 because it means successful students, successful parents, and better Prep culture. Everyone has been very committed to what we need.”