by Maya Rhodan
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – When Samuel Cephas was a child, he recalls his mother, preaching the importance of a solid education.
“Everything was about education,” Cephas says of his Cuban-born mom. The youngest of four, he remembers taking his schoolwork seriously—from the private school he attended while living in the South Bronx in New York, to the Catholic school and summer programs he enrolled in after his family moved to Connecticut.
Education was his priority.
It was almost natural, then, after his mother died in the late 90s, for Cephas to set out and start a business that allowed him to instill the value of education to children of his heritage in Hartford, Conn.
He began by focusing on American Indian children. Cephas is half Native American, who represent about 1 percent of the population of Hartford, but lived mainly in the inner city.
“When I look at Natives, we were the last of the last,” Cephas says.
He started a tutoring program focused on math and technology, working with a local Pentecostal Church to locate native children to assist. One of the pastors, however, suggested that Cephas expand and include Black and Latino kids, too.
It was then that Cephas’s idea to reach Native American kids expanded to include all members of minority communities in Hartford’s North End neighborhood, an area better known for its crime than education. It was then that E=MC2 really took off.
It began as a program to get elementary school aged children prepared for high school, but when Cephas took notice of the city’s high school dropout rate, he shifted his approach.
In 2006, the city of Hartford’s graduation rate hovered around 29 percent, according to state data, and Cephas and his team worked to make sure the kids they tutored were not only among those who graduated, but went on to attend college.
“I try to teach kids that you can be whatever you want to be,” Cephas says. “But in order to go from A to B you have to go through school.”
For minority kids Cephas says it’s important to, “look at inner fears and look at the pluses –take math-phobia or anything that they’re afraid of and turn it into a positive. “
Cephas and his team not only provided educational opportunities, they provided nutritional programs, hosted financial literacy seminars, and provided career advice for the kids of the North End.
From 2001-2011, 280 students entered the program and 226 went on to higher education according to Cephas.
One of those students includes, Marcus Harris, 26, a senior at the Central Connecticut State University where he’s majoring in public relations.
“After I met Cephas, he took me under his wing and kept me out of trouble,” Harris says. “He helped me keep on the right path.”
Harris bounced around foster homes for much of his life, throughout Boston, up until the he moved to Hartford to live with his father.
When Harris was a sophomore in high school he started attending MC2 after school.
“When you move around a lot you can end up feeling like you have an attachment to something,” Harris says. “A lot of times when that happens kids turn to gangs, MC2 was my gang.”
Harris says the program helped him gain a sense of direction and attributes some of his success to his involvement with MC2.
“I can’t say I gained all of my influences from the program,” Harris says. “But being a pupil of Cephas’s helped me learn the importance of knowledge.”
Harris still works with MC2, now as a tutor.
“It’s a progressive program in that Cephas wants to reach youth that are not good at math and in school top prove that they can be good students,” says Michael Gordon, a colleague of Cephas.
“Our kids are failing, but some of the time it’s because they’re misunderstood in class,” Gordon, who owns an after school program and daycare center in Hartford, says. “Cephas is a man that walks the streets and talks to the streets. He builds a rapport with the students and that helps.”
After 10 years of working in Hartford, however, Cephas had to leave after the leader of the church he partnered with, Wadie Lanier, who was pivotal in getting the program to reach children across minority communities, died. He is now looking to expand his program to reach communities in Manchester, Conn. He’s hoping the program will reach kids in that community as it has helped students across Hartford.
“I don’t deal with AP kids, I deal with the kids who are falling through the cracks,” Cephas says. “But this is not just a New England project any more. There are minority kids all over the world who need help and they need people to help them.
It’s actually a 50-state, global network.”
If Cephas gains the funding he needs, he expects to launch the Manchester program in the fall.