Gentlemen of Vision
We chat with Marlon Wharton
Gentlemen of Vision has a story that cuts to the core of what Saint Louis can be, look no further than Riverview Gardens High School in North County. Here, every Tuesday and Thursday, young men from more than 20 different schools across the city meet as Gentlemen of Vision.
The mission? To prepare disadvantaged males to successfully complete high school through demonstrating superior leadership skills, academic excellence, community service, and career readiness in order to successfully transition into higher education or trade.
The secret to success? Pairing the fitness and competitive excitement of Step with a comprehensive program to instill personal responsibility and achievement.
And Marlon Wharton, a career counselor and founder of the group, has proven extreme success with the model. By focusing on four areas for high school men — Counseling, Academics, Mentorship, and Programming, GOV has created an award-winning Step Team where 100% of the participants have successfully graduated from high school. The young men are responsible for maintaining academic excellence, and a high level of accountability in order to perform with the team. In other words, Marlon says, “No grades, no stage.”
College-educated men mentor the high school students, who in turn mentor students in the middle school program. When the team travels for Step competitions, they stop for college visits and career fairs in every city along the way. The team trains for competitions together, does community service together, and performs at area schools for events like Black History Month, sharing their experiences and a vision where all black men can graduate from high school and achieve productive careers.
In 2016, a documentary was released following the lives of the Gentlemen of Vision. It won the Midrash Award at the 2016 St. Louis International Film Festival, and was accepted for the American Film Showcase in 2019. It was shown in countries as different as Colombia and Kyrgyzstan, where it received accolades and huge community engagement, showing the spirit of collective excellence transcends culture.
This year, the Gentlemen of Vision hope to keep engagement high with creative performances and transitioning some of the mentorship and counseling aspects to virtual or socially-distanced means. An upcoming competition in Virginia means a fundraising goal to ensure no young man is left behind– if their grades are good and they are meeting all responsibilities, Marlon is determined that financial hardship will not keep the young men from competing. You can donate to support these competitions and other programming for the Gentlemen of Vision directly on their website here, and though in-person volunteer opportunities are currently limited, Gentlemen of Vision is always looking for mentors and speakers to share their experiences with the young men. As we work to support black excellence in this year and every year, Gentlemen of Vision is setting the bar. Help support them through donations, and book the step team at events!
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