MIAMI (CBSMiami) — Matthew Hatcher and Kamal Cuffe are seniors at Miami Northwestern Senior High School. They’re popular kids…basketball players…and they know the temptation to stray from the path of success. Some of their friends deal drugs to make quick cash.

“They think about money so much,” Hatcher told CBS4’s Natalia Zea.

“A lot of people think getting money quick is easier than just to stay in school,” said Hatcher.

Part of the reason these young men are so motivated to do the right thing is their participation in the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project, held Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to noon inside Miami’s School Board Administration Building.

For 19 years the Miami-Dade School District program, founded by Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), has aimed at helping at-risk boys succeed.

Wilson’s goal each year is “to provide young boys with a carefully chartered path to manhood by pairing them with adult mentors whose legitimate success can inspire them to achieve successes of their own.”

The students received information on how to conduct monthly club meetings, learned the role of student ambassadors and the importance of having good leadership skills.

“It helps us become role models and gentlemen for the future. And we set examples for other students,” explained Hatcher.

More than 8,000 at-risk boys take part in the educational support project. These boys are their leaders. They took the morning away from classes Thursday to learn a different kind of lesson. Superintendent Alberto Carvalho gave a moving speech.

“Be all that you can be, fight hard for what you believe in, and live up to the ideals of your fathers and your mothers,” he said.

Their mentors, like former program participant George Ray, know the challenges they face and how to appeal to their interests.

“Girls like smart guys. Let me tell you, I’m not a basketball player, I’m not an athlete. But I can get a date with a supermodel in a minute ok. Because girls like smart guys.”

They also get a powerful perspective from the program coordinator, former Miami-Dade Police Director Robert Parker.

“You’ve heard the expression an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure….I think it makes a world of difference,” said Parker.

Hatcher and Cuffe know they can’t convince everyone to follow their example. But they believe it’s worth trying.

“Me, I try to tell them if you stay in school you get the education, eventually it’s gonna lead to money,” said Cuffe.


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