Ron Pritchett, ’13, a sociology major from Martinsville, Va., has accomplished much in his first two years at college, including founding a new student organization and winning election as a Richmond College senator. But, as he tells it, he almost chose a different path.
“In middle school I was on the edge,” he said. “I was goofing off and not studying. The assistant principal pulled me aside one day and told me I had a choice: I could apply myself and make something of myself, or I could fail. I decided to apply myself.”
Pritchett thanked mentors like his assistant principal, athletic coaches, and grandfather for where he is today. They filled a void left when his father suffered a massive stroke when Pritchett was four years old. His father has lived in a nursing home ever since.
In the ensuing years, Pritchett’s mother has been a source of strength. “We never wanted for anything,” he said, “but I understand how much my mom struggled.
“My family lived in a trailer park for the first seven years of my life before we could afford to move to a nicer house. Now my mother owns a car-detailing business and a production business that promotes Gospel concerts.”
Like his mother, Pritchett recognizes how hard work can pay off.
The University of Richmond offered Pritchett, a standout high school football player, a scholarship to play defensive tackle for the Spiders. When Pritchett suffered a sports injury the summer before his first year, Coach Mike London arranged for him to attend Richmond on a nonathletic scholarship.
“I focused on academics my freshman year,” Pritchett said. But he wanted to do more.
“I’ve always had a passion for working with youth,” he said. “If I can do something to help a young person choose the right path, I feel a sense of accomplishment.”
As a sophomore, Pritchett joined Build It, a Bonner Center for Civic Engagement initiative, as a volunteer in an after-school technology program at Henderson Middle School in North Side Richmond.
When Rose Marie Wiegandt, the Henderson volunteer coordinator, asked Pritchett to start a mentoring program for Henderson boys, he embraced the opportunity.
Pritchett worked closely with good friend and Spider linebacker Darius McMillan to found a new Richmond student organization dedicated to mentoring at-risk youth and building stronger bonds between men across campus.
Future American Men of Excellence (FAME) launched in February 2011. FAME cosponsored several campus events with Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity and UR Men 4 Change, but mentoring became the organization’s primary focus.
Biweekly FAME mentoring sessions at Henderson promoted education as an overarching theme while covering a variety of topics, such as appearance, personal hygiene, sex education, alternatives to violence, and respect for self and others.
“We want to educate youth about the value of a college degree,” Pritchett said. “All kids see on TV is professional athletes, actors, and rappers. We talk to them about different careers they can pursue with an education.
“It’s hard for someone to take education away from you. Education is the key.”
Wiegandt agreed. “This was an opportunity for our young boys to see what is possible,” she said. “During their mentoring sessions, they learned that many of the UR mentors had come from similar backgrounds. The UR students stressed two themes: Show up every day. Do your best every day. If our children can do that, then college is possible for them too.”
On April 15, FAME mentors, with support from Build It, brought their mentees to campus. They toured football locker rooms and the Robins Center, met football coaches, and ate dinner at the Heilman Dining Center.
Head football coach Latrell Scott encouraged the middle school boys to pursue a college education. “You should have a dream or a goal,” he said. “Don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t make it.”
That message resonated with Pritchett, who is living his dream as a student at Richmond. He hopes to inspire others to do the same.