A Village Raised Me

When Cecil Belfon heard from a colleague about Higher Achievement, it immediately brought back memories of the programs he was part of in high school that helped him get into college.  

“I grew up in Brooklyn where access to enrichment activities was limited. Beginning in elementary school, I was heavily involved in afterschool programs which really helped me and were a safe haven for me,” remembers Cecil.  

After moving to and settling in DC, Cecil looked for an opportunity to contribute to the community. He found his place at Higher Achievement first as a literacy tutor, and then as high school readiness mentor. Cecil helped scholars build up their literacy skills and readiness for high school and post-secondary success.  

Cecil—Mr. CJ to his scholars—currently partners with scholars as they learn what they want to get out of high school, match a school to their location and interests, and navigate the applications.  “I’ve actually learned a lot about the school systems in DC in the process!” laughs Cecil.  

He has observed firsthand the impact the pandemic has had on his scholars. “The pandemic stifled progress, and youth were the most affected. Not being able to socialize, attend school, and learn in person…it’s tough when the social aspect is key during their development. They are now getting back to basics and we’re working on bringing them back up to speed.” 

For Cecil, one of the most rewarding aspects of mentoring is providing opportunities for scholars that they may not have otherwise had access to. “The scholars want to learn, and they have a bright future ahead,” says Cecil. “They are motivated and driven, and at Higher Achievement I get to be part of bringing kids into an environment where they can grow and be exposed to new things.” 

Mentors like Mr. CJ are key partners to our scholars during their formative middle school years. They are part of the essential community surrounding our young people as they live into their talents and take steps toward fulfilling their dreams for the future.  

“It takes a village to raise a child. A village raised me,” affirms Cecil. “We all have a responsibility to make sure that kids have a safe place to learn, grow, and be a child. Everyone should be a mentor. It’s a beautiful feeling to give back and watch these kids grow. I look forward to seeing what they will become in high school and college and saying, ‘Look at them now!’”