LeVon Barnes (’04) is impacting the East Coast — from New York City to Durham — with his program giving at-risk young men a chance to prove themselves and rise above adversity.
Barnes’ Young Male Achievers (YMA) program was born in 2005 in Washington, D.C., focused then more on offering a new way of life for teens and young men involved or living around gang activity in the area. A native of New York City, Barnes himself encountered gang activity throughout his childhood and relied on his community and family to support and steer him into a direction he and they could be proud of.
His father was his earliest positive male role model, and both parents raised him early on to serve others and give back to his community. That started with volunteering during Thanksgiving — an act Barnes has implemented in the YMA program — something he learned from his father before he passed away when Barnes was only 9.
“My memories of [my father] were ones where he gave people opportunities that most overlooked,” he said. “During the holidays, he would make sure every kid in the neighborhood had a gift and would provide turkeys during Thanksgiving.”
While his father taught him service, Barnes learned humility and gratefulness from his mother. All of these attributes served Barnes well throughout high school and into college at Campbell, where he earned his degree in physical education teaching and coaching. After serveral assistant coaching positions after college, Barnes was named the head men’s basketball coach and associate dean of student at Lackawanna College in Pennsylvania in 2013.
He moved to Durham and returned to coaching at the high school level. He soon became inspired to expand the YMA program.
“It is now less about gangs and more about empowerment, academics and civic duties,” Barnes said. “For YMA to have more than 70 members at this point and more than 8,000 hours of community service — virtually eliminating in-school suspension for minority sixth- through 12th-graders —is a testament to a group that believes in a shared vision.”
Students in YMA have opportunities to attend youth leadership conferences and learn valuable skills. They have also served 7,000 collective volunteer hours and blessed 60 families with a meal on Thanksgiving since 2014. Barnes said he is looking to expand YMA into other schools in the state and eventually make it into a nonprofit. But his vision doesn’t stop there.
Barnes has entered the political realm in Durham, saying he wants to “bring economic growth and prosperity to all of it’s citizens regardless of the zip code they reside.” As a teacher, he says he “encounters our future in the form of students who deserve to dream and deserve a better world that can be given.”