By Raevyn Pritchett, Clark Atlanta University
I interviewed Alabamian Nicholas Rankins, a man well known for his service in our community. His peers described this man as proactive, passionate, and action-oriented. His grandparents raised him in rural Mobile. When asked what inspired him, he explained that his guardians assisted other elders within the community. As a teenager, he was part of the upward bound program and quickly developed a passion for mentorship and fellowship. He later started mentoring and decided to make a career of helping others. Rankins is the former head of Kappa League Montgomery, Alabama. He is also the founder of the nonprofit organization Young Men on a Mission. The focus of my interview was on this question: How can Black youth support, maintain, and change impoverished communities? Among the many issues we discussed, I found the following dialogue the most impactful.
I asked Mr. Rankins the most significant observation he has made while leading a group of young men. He responded, “This generation is technology-led and lacks family orientation. Many of these boys develop their role models based on the entertainers they watch through a television screen.” He also shed light on the self-destruction occurring at our leisure, despite economic inadequacies, including the school to prison pipeline and the War on Drugs policies. “We are the ones destroying our community. We use the drugs and guns wrongfully placed in our habitats.” He proposed a feasible solution to combat this wrongdoing. “We need to get back to in-person, technology-free interaction. These kids are not themselves.” I found this statement compelling. Social media has created a false sense of the future for many young people, which is why Rankins prides himself and his organization on four factors: Family, Education, Social Activity, and Community Service.
Rankins developed Young Men on a Mission because he simply wanted to do more. By becoming a nonprofit organization, he could apply and obtain both federal and state funding. These grants have helped the program’s mobility and sociability. Their latest project is their community garden, used to provide proper vegetation for the community. The garden is merely a small way to treat the economic disparities so prominent within impoverished neighborhoods. “Generation plays a huge role in the lack of resources and stability of our communities,” Rankins shared. He used downtown Montgomery as an example. Prices of property are dropping in these subdivisions, but the information about it is limited. Hence, those who can afford it are buying out the lower class. Property is an enormous investment in wealth, so we need to begin taking advantage of these opportunities. Another issue Rankins and I discussed was the notion of generational curses, including poverty due to poor financial inheritance and literacy. Though Rankins recognizes these challenges, he stated, “You make yourself, not your community.” It is more than what surrounds you. Though we have much work to do, it starts with gaining knowledge and spreading awareness.
To conclude our interview, I asked Rankins what legacy he wanted to leave and his long-term goals. He responded simply with, “Change. I want to continue to change my communities because if I can change one person, I can change the lives of many. I believe I will be doing my job.” I could not help but praise this man’s humility and respect for his upbringing. Our discussion inspired me to serve my community and pride myself on gratitude for the life I have. While there was so much, more we could have brought to light, these gems were beneficial for me, and I hope they can benefit others.