Story by Justin Breeze

When I was in middle school I joined a club called Men Of Distinction (MOD) at Southern Middle School.  This club was all about teaching teenage boys how to be upstanding, respectful young men. MOD helped me in many ways: the club taught me life lessons, expanded my leadership skills, and helped me become more social. I will always be grateful for the skills this club taught me. But most of all, I am grateful for Mr. Poole, the club advisor.

Mr. Poole was tall and slim and bald. He always wore a suit and he rarely smiled, but when he did, it felt like I had earned an award. He grew up in Person County, just like me, and after he graduated from North Carolina A&T State University with a degree in history, he came back to Southern Middle School to run the ISS program. ISS stands for in-school suspension, and it is where kids get sent when they cannot behave in class. Mr. Poole tolerated no nonsense from the kids in his ISS room, but he also believed in helping kids succeed. That is why he started MOD. When I asked him why he decided Southern Middle needed this club, he told me MOD reflected his passion for teaching “youth that the world has so much to offer. If they only put forth the effort, they will see the fruits in their labor.”

Mr. Poole insisted that the members of MOD present ourselves in a professional manner at all times. He never allowed sagging pants because it was a sign of disrespect and it was unprofessional. Once a week we would even dress up! This is where I learned to tie my first tie. The first time I tried to tie it, I nearly choked myself. But eventually, I got the hang of it, and I was amazed to see a young man staring back at me from the mirror.

At first, I was very skeptical about this change in my wardrobe. To be honest, in my early middle school years I was not the cleanest dish in the sink. But I loved being in MOD and I knew that if I wanted to continue to be in the club, I would have to clean up my image. Eventually I came to realize that dressing like a man made me feel like a man. It made me view myself as the kind of person who was worthy of respect.

Another activity that MOD participated in was volunteering for the Special Olympics.  This event allows children with disabilities to compete in games and races to win medals. Members of MOD were paired with a Special Olympics buddy. I remember how happy my buddy was to spend the day with me and my partner. Seeing my buddy compete in events humbled me because it opened my eyes and my heart to a side of life that I don’t experience every day. Volunteering taught me the value of giving back to the community. I learned that it was a privilege to help those in need. I would not have learned that lesson if it hadn’t been for Mr. Poole.

Mr. Poole also expected us to maintain good grades, because he wanted us to get a good education so we could move on to bigger and better things. If a teacher complained that one of the MOD boys was misbehaving or slacking off, Mr. Poole called a “come to Jesus” meeting in his room. We hated to disappoint him, and the change in our academic behavior reflected our desire to make him proud. He encouraged us to push ourselves in the classroom and excel academically, and we rose to the challenge because we wanted to earn his respect. Because of his influence, I learned how to study and how to manage my time wisely.

The discipline Mr. Poole taught me in middle school is the reason I have been successful in high school. Serving as Vice President of MOD taught me leadership skills. Being accountable to Mr. Poole taught me the value of hard work. Paying attention to my appearance taught me that first impressions matter. Thanks to Mr. Poole I gained the skills I needed to excel in honors classes in high school and prepared me for leadership roles. For instance, I am the Drum Major of my high school marching band. The reason I am capable of leading my peers is because of the confidence Mr. Poole instilled in me way back in middle school.

More than anything, Mr. Poole taught us the importance of brotherhood. “I am my brother’s keeper,” was the quote we lived by. Mr. Poole stressed daily that we should look out for, support, and care for each other. He taught us to build each other up and not tear anyone down. Eventually, we learned to followed the principles of brotherhood even when Mr. Poole was not there. We supported each other through good times and bad. We celebrated each other’s victories and attended the funerals of each other’s loved ones. We became a family.  Words cannot express how grateful I am to Mr. Poole. He influenced my life for the better and for that I will be forever in his debt.

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