They are not royalty on the basketball court or stars of the big screen. It’s possible you’ve never even heard their names. Raised in Akron, they’ve left to pursue careers elsewhere.
But that doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten the people in this city who once kissed their skinned knees, guided them as teenagers and instilled the importance of a good education. They’re so appreciative that they return often to give back to the city they love and the townspeople who shaped their lives.
Eric R. Jones Fletcher II and Steve King graduated 10 years ago from Akron’s Buchtel and Garfield high schools, respectively. Both were academically gifted and received college scholarships. Two years ago, as successful scholars and businessmen, they founded the Young Black Professionals Coalition (YBPC), a nonprofit organization that focuses on the development of future leaders.
The group has a dual purpose, serving kids and young adults. It plays a role in the development of young African-Americans through a mentoring program, workshops, seminars and professional clinics.
Even before the coalition was officially formed, YBPC, with assistance from sponsors, was helping inner-city students by providing them with book bags filled with school supplies (this year, the group plans plan on giving away 800) and collecting canned goods to benefit various organizations within the city.
The YBPC sponsors events to help raise money and support, such as charity bowling and kickball events and a Christmas toy drive.
“It really feels genuine when you do it for the right reasons — not for the publicity,” said King, 28, who graduated from Ohio State University and is working on his master’s degree through Ashland University. “We didn’t care about any of that.”
Fletcher, who also did his undergraduate work at Ohio State University and received his master’s degree in administration from Central Michigan University, was working at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., when the notion of a coalition came to mind.
“I was actually lying in my bed … thinking about a lot of different things that could happen in the city of Akron that would help kids and develop a better network for my peers,” said Fletcher, also 28. “A lot of young professionals between the ages of 20 and 30 really don’t … know how to bill themselves, professionally.”
Throughout the night, he researched the idea, calling King, his friend since childhood, in the morning.
“It’s something that we’ve been trying to do,” Fletcher told him. “We need to go ahead and formalize it. It is going to help us as professionals and help the youth.”
Today, there are about 25 active YBPC members between the ages of 23 and 32, most of whom graduated from Akron Public Schools. Of those, about 10 live in places such as Atlanta and Philadelphia and return to Akron to volunteer at events; the rest live in the Akron area. They hold various jobs, including accountant, teacher, mechanical engineer, legislative aide, school psychologist and owner of a child-care center.
“I love this city to death,” said Fletcher, who now lives in Columbus, where he is working as a special events coordinator for Ohio State. “Some people have to get away to really appreciate Akron for what it truly is and the many blessings there are in Akron.”
For Fletcher, president of YBPC, and King, vice president, families have played a huge part in their successes and generous natures. Both were the oldest of six children. In King’s family, it was all boys, and with that came a sense of responsibility.
“I knew the pressure was on me to set the example for the rest of my brothers coming up,” said King, who was raised in a single-parent home by his mother, Kathleen Mathis. “I always challenged myself to make my mom proud. She was very … strong and never showed any sign of quitting. And because people saw the potential in our family, they were always willing to help us. Not because they felt sorry for us, but they saw that some day we were going to make something of ourselves.”
King was recently honored with the Significant African-American Male award from the Akron Chapter of the Ohio Black Women’s Caucus and, upon graduation from high school, he received a $40,000 scholarship from the Knight Ridder Scholars Program for Minorities. He received his first taste of journalism in the newsroom of the Akron Beacon Journal.
His boss, current business editor Larry Pantages, was overseeing the sports department when King worked as an intern for him.
King “came across as very smart and organized and unflappable when we talked about sports writing and journalism and the kind of assignments he could take on,” Pantages recalled.
After graduating from Ohio State, King worked at the Philadelphia Daily News for two years before heading back to Columbus, where he’s working as a school resource coordinator at Communities in Schools of Central Ohio, a community-based dropout prevention organization that helps kids stay in school and graduate.
At YBPC events, King, who has been a DJ since the age of 17, uses music to connect with kids.
“It’s OK to be a DJ and smart,” he said, chuckling.
Learning by example
On a recent summer morning outside a relative’s home in Akron, Fletcher was caught giving his pop a hug.
“He is the best son I could have asked for,” Eric Jones said. “He never caused me any trouble. I was blessed.”
Much of the passion that Fletcher has for helping the youth of Akron came from his family, who made certain he remained so busy with sports and other activities that there was no time left for trouble.
“My father was a youth basketball and football coach. Currently, he and my aunt, Erica Jones, oversee the Akron Titans,” a youth football team, Fletcher said. And his grandmother, Betty Jones, fondly known as “Mama Betty,” is the founder of Akron’s Essiex Drill Team.
Though his father and mother, Colette Fletcher, aren’t living together, they individually played parts in encouraging him to remain grounded.
“They always said to me, ‘You have to take care of home first before you can take care of anything else,’ ” Fletcher remembered. “So as members of YBPC, we need to make sure we take care of Akron first in order for us to move on, professionally.”
Standing on the front porch of her home in Akron, Marva Fletcher chatted about her grandson.
“He is the love of my life. He had a dream and a goal and he accomplished that,” she said, grinning. “If you want a job done, Eric’s the guy. If you need a helping hand, he’s there.”
And lending a hand is exactly what he and King are doing for the city.
“This is one of my biggest passions,” Fletcher said, “so until the Lord calls me home, I think I’ll be doing community service and mentoring for as long as I absolutely can.”
Kim Hone-McMahan can be reached at 330-996-3742 or email@example.com.