“To me, Young Soldiers Success Group is more than an organization, it is a brotherhood. A brotherhood that has taught me the importance of holding myself in high regard. With the two main values of loyalty and respect, I have learned to care and support for the people I surround myself with. Moving to Salem from the Dominican Republic, there was no guidance for me on how to navigate through life in the United States. That all changed for me the moment I joined the Young Soldiers program when I was 12 years old. Now, my goal is to provide the same guidance and mentorship in my community through YSSG and help develop young men of color to exceed expectations and achieve their own success.” - Johnel
Johnel Roberts is the Executive and founder of Young Soldiers Success Group Inc.
At the age of 8, Johnel got a second chance at life after tragically being run over by a drunk driver. He was inches away from losing his life. Following that horrific night, it left Johnel wondering why he survived. Everything changed when Johnel was taken under the wing of his mentor. Throughout his mentorship, Johnel continuously evolved and learned the true power of his identity.
Being a first-generation Afro-Caribbean in a predominantly white city came with a lot of obstacles. Johnel moved to Salem, Massachusetts from the Dominican Republic when he was four years old. Like many immigrants, he and his family struggled with constant language barriers but in just three short years Johnel had become fluent in English. This allowed him to advocate not only for himself but for his family.
Early on Johnel had to grapple with the intersectionality of his different identities. Johnel felt like he couldn’t fully fit into his Dominican community, his black community, or the general white community he lived in. He lacked representation of who he was and how to navigate life as an Afro-Caribbean man.
Societal expectations of black men are often embarrassingly low. In middle school, Johnel was right on the verge of falling to the pressures of the stereotypes society was placing on him or finding the will to forge his own path.
Throughout all these challenges Johnel kept growing and working on himself. He showed true grit and resilience as he took on each hurdle life placed in his journey. The constant influence among his support system was his mentor, who worked in the community. Their connection was immediate because this was the first time Johnel saw someone who looked like him, investing in him.
From taking him on trips to Boston to explore the big city, coaching basketball, training the local teens, and even buying Johnel his first pair of basketball shoes, he was always loyal. All of this had an immense effect on Johnel but what truly impacted him were the real and meaningful conversations the two had together. Johnel’s mentor shared his story of being an Afro-Latino man and was open and candid with Johnel about how to authentically maneuver through life. He introduced Johnel to the influential people of Salem and taught him the importance of always staying true to your character. He pushed Johnel to always take advantage of the opportunities life threw at him and helped him understand just how big the world really is. Mentorship is what provided Johnel with the right tools for success.
The combination of academic, athletic, and personal guidance Johnel received is what inspired him to create the Young Soldiers Success Group. Due to the great mentor he had, Johnel was able to become a Yawkey Scholar, which awarded him a full four-year scholarship to Stonehill College. Johnel played on the Stonehill basketball team, studied abroad in Europe, traveled to Morocco, and was heavily involved with several organizations on campus. He did all of this while working 3 jobs and became the first member of his family to graduate from college. Johnel received his B.A. in Business Management in 2020.
Every single teen deserves the same caliber of mentorship and personal investment as Johnel obtained from his mentor. The Young Soldiers Success Group is determined to create a community full of loyalty, respect, and success where all members influence and help serve the next generation. Nearly 15 years later, Johnel has stopped wondering why he got a second chance at life. YSSG is for the people.