MBA Students Revitalize Fatherhood Initiative in Juvenile Justice Community

Park Fellows' project  provides mentorship, support, education, and life skills to young inmates who may become fathers upon release.

Almost three years ago, Tyler Baier, Charlie Follett, Martin Pierce, all MBA Class of 2010 Park Leadership Fellows at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University, started the MacCormick-Johnson Fatherhood Program, focused on providing a positive male influence to youth locked in the MacCormick Secure Center in Brooktondale, NY. The next year, more Park Fellows asked to participate in this program, including Kyle Helbing, Alex Woodcock, Ryan Barba and Christopher Burke, all MBA ’11. They partnered with Beverly King, MacCormick’s Fatherhood Program Coordinator, in the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS), to provide mentorship, support, education, and life skills to young inmates who may become fathers upon release. 

Abe Spence and Shakir Ramsey

For Park Fellows Abraham Spence and J. Shakir Ramsey, both MBA ’12, who inherited the Johnson Fatherhood initiative, this project takes on a new meaning. Spence, a Newark native, knows first-hand the tough choices young men face on streets that glamorize violence and robbery as a means to cope with poverty and family hardships. Spence made a set of choices that gave him a Morehouse College education, a career in investment banking, an MBA opportunity at Johnson, and a chance to return to those same streets starting a premiere charter school. For Ramsey, a Columbia University film grad and technology marketer who describes his path as “street poet to MBA,” the program is a continuation of a leadership-development initiative he started in Atlanta, targeting inner-city youth at schools and churches.

About working with Spence and Ramsey, Beverly King said: “What makes both of their stories relevant to the youth of MacCormick is that both are men from similar neighborhoods as the kids. Unfortunately, many of these young men have not seen men in their lives, who are professional, responsible, and care about them.” In an environment where authenticity is crucial to making a lasting connection, Spence and Ramsey do not take this unique opportunity lightly.

Spence and Ramsey are building on the successes of this initiative and offer their own strengths and insights to the programming, which focuses on real-world application, interaction, and hard skills. According to Spence, “Helping them write greeting cards for Mother’s Day is a nice gesture, but these kids need hope.” The new curriculum entails defining the participant’s life goals and purpose, because both Spence and Ramsey strongly feel that without the ability to self-lead, it will be impossible to father others responsibly. The modules consist of networking skills, résumé building, interviewing, and financial planning. Once each module is complete, the young residents receive a certificate that goes in their records as evidence of character growth before the parole boards.

As Ramsey puts it, “We added this component of celebration to the curriculum not only to incentivize the youth to participate, but make sure they pause and praise little accomplishments. Positive reinforcement is necessary in a challenging environment.”

Both Spence and Ramsey will graduate soon from Johnson at Cornell University and become MBA executives, and a new set of Park Fellows will carry on the torch to help this initiative grow. Through their own hard work, Spence and Ramsey are showing youth that it is not where you come from, but where you are going, that counts. 

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