New Pittsburgh Courier

‘Sneakerball’ helps fund positive mentorship for Pittsburgh’s Black teens

KEVIN MCNAIR, SAM MORANT AND LLOYD CHEATOM are the co-founders of 1 Nation Mentoring. They are shown in this photo with host Brian Burley, far right, at the third-annual “Sneakerball,” held at This is Red Agency, on E. 9th Ave., Homestead. (Photo by Dayna Delgado)

by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer

More than 400 people attended the third-annual “Sneakerball” on July 31 in Homestead, an event where adults wear formal attire…but rock their best pair of sneakers, which gives the event its unique touch.

But it’s where the proceeds from ticket sales go that is the real story.

The Sneakerball is the primary fundraiser for 1 Nation Mentoring, a group founded by three friends, all Black males, who are determined to be a positive influence on young African American teens in Pittsburgh.

Kevin McNair, Lloyd Cheatom and Sam Morant were all Heinz Fellows eight years ago. As a Heinz Fellow, they were part of 10 African American males who went to schools in the Pittsburgh Public Schools district to help the students get graduation-ready. But when the two-year fellowship ended in 2015, McNair told the New Pittsburgh Courier that the mentorship had to continue.

That’s how 1 Nation Mentoring came to be.

“We knew we had a connection with the kids,” McNair told the Courier in an exclusive interview, Aug. 2. “Some of the kids didn’t understand how the education system was helping them get to their goals. Our program centers around the kids learning to be their best selves, (complete with) character development skills, people skills and other skills you need to be successful.”

1 NATION MENTORING CO-FOUNDERS LLOYD CHEATOM, SAM MORANT AND KEVIN MCNAIR with Paige Mitchell, the organization’s public relations specialist, at the “Sneakerball,” July 31. (Photo by Dayna Delgado)

Between McNair, Cheatom and Morant, they’ve mentored thousands of students within the walls of Westinghouse High School, Pittsburgh Obama and Brashear High School, along with students from neighboring school districts. One of the students mentored by 1 Nation Mentoring was Aaron Thomas, who graduated from Obama in 2016. He has since graduated from the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Social Work. He described 1 Nation Mentoring in a brochure obtained by the Courier as “empowering. 1 Nation helped me realize that it’s not about what you know but who you know. Creating reciprocal, positive relationships can take you further than a certificate, license, or degree can. Networking is one of the greatest wonders of the world.”

Thomas said that he’s adopted a “we can” attitude, because then, “one’s outlook on any situation will become more positive. As a result, it will empower you to give your 100 percent effort, in which you will attain the results you demand.”

“1 Nation has helped me realize that you can get much more out of life if you think before you move,” said an unabashed Latel Williams, a 2018 Brashear graduate who was mentored by the men of 1 Nation Mentoring. “Focusing on the actions you take now to create a better future, I wanted to be a part of 1 Nation because they gave me second-chance opportunities inside the classroom that the teachers wouldn’t. 1 Nation helped me develop my leadership abilities by showing me I can be successful and still be myself. Your image doesn’t determine your success. They also taught me communication is a key to resolving problems. True leadership is inspiring and can instill hope in others without trying to manipulate them.”

AARON THOMAS was mentored by 1 Nation Mentoring.

JAMAR BOATWRIGHT was mentored by 1 Nation Mentoring.

 

Jamar Boatwright, who graduated from Brashear in 2015, said that “brotherhood” is the best word to describe 1 Nation Mentoring. “1 Nation matured me into a man and helped keep me focused on my responsibilities. They also helped me become more open-minded. I saw the impact they were making and there aren’t many Black people that are willing to educate/mentor the youth. 1 Nation has helped me develop my leadership qualities by demonstrating how to present yourself. The way you dress, the way you approach your peers, etc. True leadership is setting an example.”

McNair told the Courier he was meant to be an example-setter for others. The Charlotte, N.C., native had attended an HBCU, Winston-Salem State University (in North Carolina) for a time, but he then turned to his uncle, the Rev. Glenn Grayson Sr., pastor of Wesley Center AME Zion Church in the Hill District, who helped him enroll at Slippery Rock University. McNair came to the Pittsburgh area in 2009 for school and graduated from Slippery Rock in 2011 with a degree in non-profit management and business.

Similar to what Rev. Grayson would say to younger people, McNair, now 34 years old, tells youth to “be true to themselves. We all have special skills and talents, and often we are inspired by things we see and hear,” but “when we are confident in who we really are…that shows true growth.”

As a new school year begins soon, this time with students present, 1 Nation Mentoring will have its base office at Brashear. McNair said he teaches a class at the school, too.

NAOMI RITTER, SAMANTHA BLACK (PHOTO BY DAYNA DELGADO)

Throughout the upcoming school year, much of the money raised by the Sneakerball goes towards college tours for the high schoolers, SAT prep courses, Internet access for some students, and other basic needs that a student may have. 1 Nation Mentoring also holds food and clothing drives. 1 Nation Mentoring does receive funding from the city’s philanthropic organizations, but “we don’t want to be reliant” on them, McNair said. The hundreds that turned out for the Sneakerball shows that African Americans in Pittsburgh will find ways to help fund causes that are doing positive things for the Black community.

“We truly appreciate them (the attendees) because it’s not about us. It’s about how we can create an amazing environment (the Sneakerball) that spotlights our people’s own talents, what Pittsburgh has to offer. It shows the importance of unity.”

EVERETTE REGAN (PHOTO BY DAYNA DELGADO)

VALON AND SHAHONDA

REP. AUSTIN DAVIS, FIFE MYERS, SHADRAE KING

SNEAKERBALL ATTENDEES…

NAOMI RITTER, right, with an Sneakerball attendee.

DESTINY THOMAS AND CHARNETTA REED