There’s a special bond growing between a group of boys at Booker T. Washington Elementary School and two devoted community mentors.
Allen Sampson had the idea to launch a program that would help shape the lives of the boys growing up in his Ybor neighborhood.
“I grew up across the street. I understand what it is to grow up in a community where there’s lack. The first thing that kids want to do is to find something to belong to. A lot of times that’s street gangs. We try to replicate that, influence a large group of people, and make everyone feel a sense of belonging. That’s what EVOLV is,” said Sampson.
Together with Eric Dungy, son of former Tampa Bay Buccaneers Coach Tony Dungy, the two started EVOLV Brotherhood last school year at B.T. Washington.
“I want to help better the world and use a lot of the principles from our high school coach, Robert Weiner at Plant. A lot of principles of love, respect, vulnerability, teamwork, togetherness. We said how can we recreate that for kids who aren’t in the football program or sports program and still create that bond,” said Co-Founder Eric Dungy.
“EVOLV – it’s a place that these kids can come and they can belong. They can feel significant, feel a sense of acceptance. We give them new life skills and make sure they’re able to experience things outside of the box they live in,” said Allen Sampson, EVOLV Brotherhood Founder.
The group helps to inspire students and strengthen their connections by using military-type chants and fraternity-style stepping.
“E-S, E-S, E-S, E-S,” chanted the boys in EVOLV Brotherhood.
“E-S, which means Excellence Society. When we step it’s a resemblance of how our EVOLV group is,” said Ronnie, a Booker T. Washington 4th Grade student.
The boys also huddled up and shouted out characteristics and things they’d like to focus on in school and in their lives. “Love, good grades, leadership, behavior!”
“It shows leadership and what we can do in the real world,” said Adarius, a Booker T. Washington 5th Grade student. “Leadership, love, brotherhood – brotherhood is we are close, all of us are like brothers.”
“I like being in EVOLV, because it shows discipline,” said Earl, a Booker T. Washington 5th Grade student.
“I learn how to have respect and respect others. They taught me how my actions can be better,” said Jim, a Booker T. Washington 4th Grade student.
Leaders have seen the positive behavior and camaraderie spread throughout the school.
“We pick the kids who we believe are natural leaders. A lot of times, that doesn’t fall under being a straight-A student. It ripples down into the school,” Sampson said. “They see them and want to follow them and do well like them.”
“The ones who aren’t in the group, we can still show them what we do inside the group,” Ronnie said.
The boys also wear EVOLV jerseys, paid for by Tony Dungy, which helps spark interest in the group.
“Thank you so much to his father, Tony Dungy. From day one he’s been sponsoring us. He got those shirts. I told him one day, and the next day they were ordered,” Sampson said.
Organizers hope B.T. Washington students will be a shining example for not only their classmates, but also schools across our district.
“We’re doing great things at Booker T. and hope we can replicate this with other schools and keep being part of the betterment of Tampa,” said Dungy.
“We’re brothers and we love each other!” Ronnie said.
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