Gifted and Talented 7 Set to Change Lives



Gifted and Talented 7, also known as GT7 is a mentoring program for young black males growing up in Chicagoland. The original seven boys are advised under the authority of Kendall Straughter, the organization’s founder and executive director. The program begins working with the boys when they are high school freshmen and continues to mentor them beyond college.

Black Boy Joy

However, more recently, Straughter realized the importance of instilling morals and values in younger black boys. He decided to welcome 5th through 8th graders into the mentoring group via the 5-week day camp at Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School.

This program allows the students to build personal relationships with the original GT7 members, staff, professionals, and one another. They learned yoga, art, photography, career exploration, and health and nutrition.

Straughter wanted his day camp to contain something for individuals who attended. He explained, “last year our summer camp theme was black boy joy, and it really taught boys [sic] what it means to be a boy of color.”

Having such deep conversations on defining black boy joy and getting involved with extracurricular activities led to the decision to have an “away” version of the camp for three consecutive days out of the 5-week span.

This camp is said to have benefits for the participants and the staff. Some discovered things about themselves that they never knew. Raymone Funches, an original member of GT7, expressed his passion for being a junior counselor:

Working with kids is something I see that comes to me naturally. Two years in a row I was voted most liked JC.

Cameron Johnson, another GT7 junior counselor, and original member explained:

It helped me look at kids from a different perspective. I valued the knowledge of being a mentor. I look at the kids in my neighborhood and wonder if I can be a mentor to them.

To many, GT7 is more than just a program, it is a family. They even refer to Straughter as “Pops” because he is a father figure to many of the boys he mentors, some of which do not have fathers or father figures in their lives. As Straughter describes it, “GT7 is a true parental situation.”

Karvel Sims, the last of the original GT7 members, said being a junior counselor changed him:

It gave me a sense of maturity, and an avenue to express myself. In high school I was emotional, angry and sad. Now I see myself in a more positive light.

How It All Began

The GT7 was developed as a way to pay homage to Straughter’s late sister, who lost her life at age 30.  On his 30th birthday, in October 2015, he decided he wanted to do something meaningful beyond work-related tasks and celebrating his birthday in the traditional fashion.

At this point, Straughter met the young men he was already mentoring and came to them with the idea of teaching the community the importance of black male-to-male mentorship.

The next step was to come up with the most suitable name.

I had to remind them that they had gifts and they had talents and they had things to offer the earth and the world. So, how do you allow me and my resources to lend you those opportunities? [How do I help you] to develop who you are so that you can go out and serve and add value to the world?

The organization’s objective was to take part in changing the narrative of the black boy. The GT7 strives to show the world that they can be smart, articulate, have positive emotions, and can be resourceful. However, common perceptions were something they found difficult to change.

Social media is one of the skills GT7 is working on when it comes to promoting themselves as individuals and advertising their overall program concept.

Who is Kendall Straughter?

From the perspectives of his “sons,” Straughter has made a huge impact in all of their lives in ways that range from minor acts of kindness to major avenues for transformation.

This was Straughter’s goal. He wanted to assist them in bettering themselves, the community, and, someday, the world.

Funches explained, “Kendall made me recognize my potential as a leader.”

Being put in settings such as the day camp and presenting their work to others has allowed GT7 to travel through life outside of the box. “He helps me develop a stronger mindset and question why the things in the world are happening, versus just letting them happen.”

More importantly, ” Kendall helps me express myself. He ensures I am on top of my game and gives me meaningful lectures.”

Goals and a Legacy

Kendell Dixon, also an original GT7 member, died of a heart attack in April 2017. Straughter stated:

For the last four or five years [sic] we were growing as a family. I think the hardship of his death really shaped what we are doing. It provided a desire and strength to achieve greater impact and grow more as a family.

The goal of GT7 is to not let the program die because it will create a negative stain on Dixon’s death. All of their hard work would then be for nothing. Continuing to grow GT7 is a way for them to pay homage to him and his contributions.

Straughter believes that one day his “sons” can take over GT7 full time and that they, themselves, will be confident that they could ultimately make this happen. Each of them has individual gifts and talents. They are destined to add value to and help continue to the program.

It may seem like the young men are the only ones benefiting from this program. However, when Straughter talks about his “sons” he lights up.

He wants to continue the legacy that they have already created and eventually have a center that will educate the community on some of the topics the GT7 focuses on, such as mental health, nutrition, and social service.

GT7 is reaping the benefits of teaching the importance of philanthropy, as they have earned $170,000 in private grant funding in the last two years.

“We have to remember that to everyone hustling looks different. We want the young men of GT7 to know and understand that they have to hustle smart and use their resources to their full advantage. This way others will want to be involved financially and voluntarily.”

GT7 is for, and about, young black men. Straughter vows to support them in becoming stronger, gaining a solid education by continuing to send them to college and coach them through. Also, he wants to tell the city about their service in various communities so that other young black men can make a positive change in their own lives.

If it is not available then it must be created.

Written by Alexandria Martin
Edited by Cathy Milne


Interview: Kendall Straughter on Oct. 12, 2017
Interview: Cameron Johnson on Oct. 15, 2017
Interview: Karvel Sims on Oct. 16, 2017
Interview: Raymone Funches on Oct. 13, 2017

Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Kendall Straughter – Used With Permission


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