Local middle schoolers are getting a leg-up in a club called Man Up at Woodrow Wilson Middle School in City Heights.
The club started eight years ago, but now is getting attention from three other middle schools that are interested in duplicating a similar club to help their underserved students achieve better grade point averages.
Man Up was created and developed by Wilson Middle School math teacher, Roosevelt Johnson.
He started it because he saw his students failing eight years ago.
"I am telling you, there was not one African American boy at this school that had the 2.0 that was necessary to graduate,” said Johnson. “After I saw that, I said that’s enough, and that’s when I put the club into action.”
Johnson’s mission for the club is leadership, respect, responsibility, and success.
“We teach them life skills, interviewing how to dress, how to speak, we try to teach them to be proactive, think before they act,” Johnson said.
Every Friday morning at 7:30 a.m., an hour before their scheduled classes start, the weekly club meeting is held. They are served breakfast and get to bond before they meet a local inspirational leader.
On Friday, it was Jordan Jerome Harrison, with a company called Reality Changers who came to speak to the boys. Harrison tried to relate to the kids sharing his troubled childhood.
“My grades in 8th grade were trash, like straight up,” said Harrison in front of the class of Man Up club members. “I finished 8th grade with a 1.67 GPA; I had to start high school with remedial math. Basketball was everything if I wasn’t going to make it in basketball, I wasn’t going to make it in anything,”
Then he fell head first into the ground and hurt himself, making basketball no longer an option he could pursue professionally. He ended up graduating from San Diego State University with a business degree and then went on to Harvard and earned his master’s degree in only one year.
That is Johnson’s goal, to show his club members that there is more to life than falling behind. He tells them what the difference is between a boy and a man; his goal is to turn his boys into real men.
Man Up Club president, 8th grader, Josue Franco started with the club as a 6th grader.
“I was like a rough head in 6th grade, and I felt like I had I had to pick up my grades and I knew Mr. Johnson would help me,” said Franco. “My grades got way better.”
He said his parents supported him, but he needed to find more help.
“My parents are busy, and I have a smaller sister I have to take care of, but it doesn’t get in the way of my school, I have priorities, and I like, split them,” Franco said.
Franco said being in the club means more than improving your GPA, it has taught him life-long skills.
“There are two different things of being a man, a good man, and a real man. A good man is average, but a real man has to be above and beyond,” Franco said.
Johnson said he has 18 8th graders expected to graduate, making more room for more students. He said, in his eight years of the club it has had a 100 percent graduation rate.
His wife has also started a girl’s club at the school, after seeing all her husband’s success with his club. Her club started in November and is helping underserved girls academically and socially. Her club is called “Mission Possible.”