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Alaska’s groundbreaking Black Role Model Initiative consists of black men going into schools to mentor African-American boys.

Tye Nero’s career plan was simple: become a professional basketball player.

“I was just interested in playing ball. I didn’t care about grades,” said Nero (pictured above, far left), a 12-year-old 7th grader at Tanana Middle School in Fairbanks, Alaska.

But then he heard about the Black Role Model Initiative. The program consisted of black men coming to his school twice a month to mentor African-American boys.

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Nero said the program piqued his interest, because he was interested in learning more about African-American history.

He got that and a lot more.

At one of the meetings, Nero was introduced to former NBA players and coaches. He learned how important an education was regardless of your career plans, and he learned that he had more options for earning money than playing in the NBA.

“I realized basketball is not the only thing I can do. I can make good grades. I realized you need good grades to play basketball,” Nero told Aol Black Voices. “My grades are better now. The mentors are really cool. They didn’t say don’t try to do sports. They said go for your dream but make sure you keep your options open.”

That’s the response that Bernard Gatewood, a Fairbanks council member and superintendent of the Fairbanks Youth Facility, and Bob Sawyer, a retired Army sergeant major, were hoping for when they spearheaded the launch of the group in 2007. Both were speakers on a panel at an annual leadership summit, when the topic of the achievement gap among black males came up.

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