This mentorship program changed her life
Anyonam Tutu-Brenpong is the first to admit she was a “horrible” student in high school. “I had no direction, I wasn’t focused, I was too social, I wasn’t disciplined,” she says. “I struggled with completing homework.”
Yet here she is at the University of Toronto Scarborough, thriving in third-year psychology. What made the difference?
Her simple answer: the IMANI Mentorship Program, a highly successful outreach initiative for Scarborough school students that started as a club within UTSC’s Black Student Alliance and is today overseen by the Department of Student Life. Tutu-Brenpong is now one of IMANI’s student ambassadors – and the club president.
But back when she was in Grade 9, her parents knew she needed help with school. They had already tried tutors and private teachers, to little avail. Then her dad, who worked as a caretaker at UTSC, heard about IMANI and brought her to the weekly on-campus sessions.
Student mentors helped Tutu-Brenpong with her homework and gave her tips on studying.
“And it was really inspiring seeing people like me who were in school and doing well,” she says. “Over time, I learned to be more focused and more disciplined with my schoolwork. It helped me with my social skills, gave me organizational skills, and helped me set up goals.
“I feel like had I not been in that program, I probably wouldn’t have made it to university.”
IMANI, which means “faith” in Swahili, started out in 2005 by mentoring a handful of high school students in a UTSC classroom, with the goal of helping more black youth get to university. Today, with support from founding donor and UTSC alum Mary Anne Chambers, it has grown to serve 120 mentees each week at high schools, elementary schools and library sites throughout Scarborough.
Besides helping with schoolwork, Tutu-Brenpong and her fellow ambassadors mentor students with their personal issues, act as a liaison with teachers and parents and, as a reward, organize sports such as basketball, volleyball and soccer. The students also go on field trips, such as to the Ripley’s Aquarium or paintball – and to UTSC for events such as “Day in a Life” this month to see what really goes on at a university.
Tutu-Brenpong remembers how impressive coming to UTSC was for her. “I was in love with the school. I knew since Grade 9 that I wanted to go there.”
She also remembers learning more about her own Caribbean heritage. “I didn’t know much about my own culture.” Now she’s hard at work planning the Black History Month Gala on Feb. 27, hosted by IMANI.
For Tutu-Brenpong, the IMANI program gives the young students she works with role models they can look up to as well as help with academics. “Even though the kids may not say so themselves, you know it’s making a difference in their lives.”
Berton Woodward is a writer with the University of Toronto Scarborough.