“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” ― Robert Frost
Jeermal Sylvester had a dream that wasn’t unlike many other boys to be a professional basketball player. This native Chicagoan was sent by his family in his teen years to live in South Bend, Indiana to give him some stability. He graduated from South Bend Riley School in 1990, closer to fulfilling his dream than anyone could ever vision of as Metro Player of the Year. He received a full scholarship to play for Ball State University from 1990–1994, where he and his team earned 1st Team All-Conference Mid-American Conference in 1993 and 1994. The icing on the cake was when he played professionally in France, Argentina, and Singapore before his basketball career abruptly ended because of a knee injury.
Because of his injury, he had to make a career change and ended up in the social services field working with “misunderstood and disengaged youth.” He has spent over 20 years as a “high risk” youth specialist. He is currently the Out of School Youth and Project Indy Summer Employment Manager in Marion County, where he works with employers, and community partners to provide meaningful work–based learning opportunities for youth. This is personal for Jeermal because he often sees himself in the youth he works with and has an intimate knowledge of their challenges.
His extensive career includes volunteering and giving his time, resources, gifts, and talents to organizations like Heroes Camp Inc., Evolve, My Brother’s Keeper as well as other community executive boards and committees in St Joseph and Marion Counties.
Following is Jeermal’s perspective on topics related to the 21st Century man:
Interviewer: If you were trying to describe yourself to a perfect stranger, what would you say?
Jeermal: I would say that I am a passionate, resourceful and loving person that works to help make the invisible…visible. I am a connector of resources and expert on helping young people with barriers.
Interviewer: What are you most passionate about?
Jeermal: Fatherlessness and the effects that not having your father in your life to be a compass and guide you to becoming a man has on our young men and women.
Interviewer: How do you serve humankind?
Jeermal: I’ve been blessed to go through the things that I have endured throughout my life, not for me but for me to share with my young brothers and sisters to let them know that while it may be hard and not always the fun thing to do it is DOABLE! I COACH, I REACH, and I TEACH those that God has entrusted to my care to love them unconditionally and train them to be all that are called to be.
Interviewer: What do you feel is the prevailing philosophy of the 21st Century man?
Jeermal: Unfortunately, the prevailing attitude is “I want to get mine and forget about everybody else.”
Interviewer: How has it influenced your life or how have you used it to influence others?
Jeermal: It forced me to take the focus off myself because I realized and understood that I can get mine at any given time, but there are a lot more people that can’t get theirs. So, I decided that I would use my talent, gifts, and voice to help those who can’t get their own shot to have a chance and an opportunity for a better life. If we don’t reach back and help those that need help, especially our young people, we are only setting ourselves up for failure. I understand the depth of my sphere of influence, and I use it to help those in need and those who are willing to receive the help.
Interviewer: How have your life experiences shaped your calling to be a good man and do good works in the earth?
Jeermal: I used to sit and cry myself to sleep because I hated my life. My dad went to prison when I was young, and my mother struggled with drug addiction. I often thought why me? What did I do to deserve this? It wasn’t until I got older and had kids of my own that I realized I was destined to go through that experience. I didn’t understand how something so painful could produce a good ending for me. Yet, the reality was, it was for all the people that God would place in my life over the years to influence, coach, teach, serve and most importantly love. Love never fails, and I diligently work to not only usher people through but to LOVE them through the process called life. Everything I have been through was worth every heartache because of the joy and peace I have in my heart. Watching the young people change and knowing the number of lives I have touched is priceless.
Jeermal has taken his personal scars and turned them into stars. Not only has he found his own way but he has also charted the course for thousands of others that will come behind him by making the most of his opportunity to awaken their purpose.
Photo credit: Jeermal Sylvester