When she started at Robert E. Lee High School as a social worker ten years ago, Marcella Fulmore probably didn't know the impact she would have on many of her students. After speaking with African-American males about their plans for college and finding that they could use a little direction, Fulmore started the mentoring program Powerful African-American Males About Success (PAAMAS).
"I had a lot of students who would come and talk to me about college options. A lot of African-American males would say things like, 'I'm going to play in the NBA' or 'I'm going to play ball in college,'" she said. "Then I started looking at their GPAs and ask, 'Well do you play on the basketball team here?"
Many of them weren't on any of the school's sports rosters, said Fulmore. So she asked, "What makes you think a college is going to pick you up?"
Fulmore said she was encouraged to do more for her African-American male students after reading an article in a 2006 series created by The Washington Post titled "Being a Black Man" where an African-American male was mistakenly arrested after his car stopped on the highway.
"Something hit me that day that said, 'I have to do more for my African-American males at Lee," Fulmore said. "I can't see them being put into this situation in the future. Most of the students here are well behaved young men who just didn't know how to reach that point in life where we could say, 'They're going to be successful.' They didn't know how to strive for more."
After discussing her idea for the mentoring program with a few coworkers and working on her plan in the summer of 2006, Fulmore started PAAMAS the next fall semester.
Through PAAMAS, Fulmore arranges for the students to mentor younger students and participate in volunteer work. She also arranges college tours, inspirational guest speakers, sporting events and movie nights for the students in the program.
PAAMAS is not funded by the school. It is self-supporting with the students organizing fundraisers and receiving support from their community, local chapters of African-American fraternities and educators. Since she started PAAMAS, many of her students have gone on to college or the military.
"My main goal is for them to be successful in the future. I talk to them about a little bit of everything as well as communicate with their parents to try to help keep them on track and to prepare them for the future," she said. "I started this just because I wanted them to do better."
Fulmore was recently awarded the Citizen of the Year Award by the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. Fulmore will be recognized and accept her Outstanding Mentor Award at the 11th Annual Virginia Mentoring Awards March 14 in Richmond.