LIMA — Emmanuel Curtis thought back to his days growing up on Lima’s south side. That community shaped him, with men and women stepping forward to help him succeed.
Over the last two decades, it’s been his turn to show young men and women that the community supports them and will help them succeed.
“I draw back of those lessons from when I was able to grow up out south in Lima,” Curtis said. “I remember seeing men and women sell out for their community, to be involved in the community. I want to give those fruits to the next generation of young men and women.”
Curtis is one of the 12 local Jefferson Awards winners. For the win, each received money to donate to a favorite cause. The Lima News will profile each of them between now and the streaming awards show the night of Thursday, April 22.
Curtis brings mentors into the lives of young people and teaches them leadership and self-esteem along the way. He’s been involved with the Closing the Achievement Gap program in Lima since its inception in 2007, starting as a volunteer at West Middle School before moving on to North Middle School to run it there. It’s been so successful that the district continued it even after state and federal funding for it went away.
“He goes above and beyond to bring in speakers, set up engaging field trips and experience and to mentor his students,” Jill Ackerman, superintendent for Lima schools, wrote in her letter recommending Curtis for a Jefferson Award. “… He has gone above and beyond his job to bring these programs to our community.”
One newer program is My Brother’s Keeper. That program focuses on teaching young men how to contribute to their communities. It involves getting personally involved in their lives, said Curtis, who also works with the Allen County juvenile courts and the city schools.
“I see a huge crisis for young men —especially young black men, ages 15 to 25 — that we lose a lot to death and incarceration,” he said. “A lot of young people who are bound over in this, it was probably preventable.”
He said when you get to know these young men, you realize they just need more community support, which starts with building trust and respect. He’s fond of a quote he said holds true: “No significant learning without significant relationship.”
“It can’t be just a cliche. I do not want to do anything generic,” Curtis said. “Anything I do personally with young people has to be authentic. It has to be sincere. I’ve never done anything that’s just for show for people.”
Curtis also coaches girls high school track and field after working as a middle school coordinator.
“Working with at-risk youth is never an easy job. There are trust issues, family challenges, things that are out of your control. And there are disappointments, youth who experience setbacks or seem almost unreachable,” Ackerman wrote in her nomination. “Emmanuel never gives up — not on himself, the program or the youth. He is a true role model to youth, showing through example how to be successful in life as a professional and a community leader.”