Inspiration through Education
By Samantha Mendoza | Photography by Alexis Emm
As a young black man growing up in the Pioneer housing projects on the south side of Syracuse in the early 1960s, Vincent Love didn’t have many role models who looked like him. His educators, principals and figures of authority were predominantly white.
But Vincent himself was surrounded by community-wide issues like violence, drug abuse, teen pregnancy and high crime rates. Rather than resign to following the life that seemed to be laid out before him, Vincent forged his own path — and it all began with his mother’s encouragement.
“My mother was a very strong advocate of education,” Vincent said.
Now the treasurer for the North Syracuse Central School District, Vincent also serves on several local boards and is president of 100 Black Men of Syracuse. With the group, he coordinates mentorship programs for youth growing up in an environment similar to the one he was raised in.
His mother’s advice inspired Vincent to excel in math and science, which led him to take college-level courses in high school and gain acceptance to a number of universities across the country. But still, his circumstances nearly prohibited him from pursuing the life he’d always dreamed of.
Unable to raise the funds or scholarship money for tuition, Vincent considered enlisting in the U.S. Coast Guard. That is, until a high school guidance counselor called him into his office one day and told him Florida A&M University was recruiting accounting majors, and Vincent was being offered a full-tuition scholarship.
Vincent enthusiastically accepted the offer, and his entire worldview changed.
“It was a great cultural experience for me,” Vincent said. “To be on a historically black campus, to see teachers who looked like me and students who looked like me … That did wonders in terms of giving me the confidence to know that I can be successful in my life.”
After completing his degree, Vincent worked in city and state government positions across California for more than a decade before finally returning to Syracuse in 1985 to care for his elderly mother.
“There was a God watching over me, and he had a plan for me to be here where I am today,” Vincent said. “Growing up in this community, I wanted to give back in whatever way I could.”
After talking with some of his friends about issues facing the youth in his community, Vincent began helping coordinate meetings for local men of color. They sought to answer one simple, yet equally complex, question: What can we do?
Through various conversations and meetings, Vincent and his group were introduced to 100 Black Men of America, a nationwide organization focusing on educating and empowering young black teens through mentorship, health and wellness initiatives, and economic empowerment programs.
It was exactly the change he longed to create.
“I’m not one to sit around and talk about issues,” Vincent said. “I want to take action.”
So with his friends, Vincent formed a local chapter of the organization. The group contacted Fowler High School to coordinate a mentorship program, began recruiting members and planned an event to introduce themselves and their initiative to the community.
There was only one problem: they had no designated leader. At the group’s first event, none of the members had put together an agenda or planned a speech to kick off the meeting.
As a self-described “do-er,” Vincent took action.
“I don’t know what came over me, but I decided to speak up,” he recalled. “I talked about the need for a collective voice of men of color in this community to step up to do something to help our youth thrive.”
Vincent’s vision and initiative led to him to be named president, a role he has held ever since. He currently oversees the 35 group members, and coordinates mentorship and SAT prep programs, serving approximately 400 students a year.
Education empowered Vincent to transcend his life circumstances and seek success for himself and for the betterment of his community. Now, he takes a handson role in his organization to empower local teens to do the same.
“I know that if it hadn’t been for the education I received, I never would be where I am today,” Vincent said. “That’s the kind of experience I want to pass on to our young people.”
Growing up in a housing project himself, Vincent knows barriers to success are more than just economic. They are emotional. That’s why he speaks with students about their lives outside the classroom, and works with parents and guardians to foster a supportive home environment.
Although Vincent lacked for role models of color when he was growing up, he’s taken it upon himself to become one. Vincent’s own experiences serve as a reminder to teens that success is attainable, and life is worth fighting for.
“Don’t ever feel like your life doesn’t have value,” Vincent said. “There’s a reason that you’re here. You’re worth something, and you have a purpose.” SWM
For more information on 100 Black Men of Syracuse, visit 100blackmensyr.org.