Jasmin Spain ’12MED walks into work believing every student he will encounter is doing the best they can. If they weren’t, why would they be there? It’s an optimistic approach, but one he fought hard to earn.
His career today is not one that anyone would have imagined for him after being let go from his academic institution during his freshman year. Historically, he had always been a good student. Learning came naturally to him, and he took it for granted when he left home in Gaston, North Carolina, for college.
“I didn’t focus, didn’t take advantage of the resources that were made readily available to me, lacked discipline, and I thought I could just magically maneuver my way to get the grades that I desired,” he said.
When he received the news he was no longer enrolled in his program, he had an epiphany. He says he thought about those who were like him — smart and talented but facing obstacles because they were “Black Males from single-parent homes, raised in one of the poorest counties in the state of North Carolina, where drugs, alcohol, prostitution and unemployment are high.”
“I thought about those who were very smart, but due to the same reasons I wasn’t successful my freshman year in college, ended up ‘stuck’ in an environment that could have you trapped if you didn’t have the will and grit to make it out.”
So he changed his approach.
Looking to the Future
In addition to its annual MAIN Summit, which supports young men of color in the transition from high school to college, Jasmin Spain has his sights on developing initiative programming around healthy fatherhood, relationships, finances and workforce development in the future.
“The most challenging, but most exciting, effort we are working on is improving support for Black Males in college,” he said.
Through this effort, he says the initiative is working to increase its support of black male initiatives at colleges and universities and establishing an academic-based retention model that will include learning communities and service learning opportunities.
He re-applied and returned to school vowing to take his curriculum seriously. He would see it through to create a better future, not only for himself but for those who could look to him as an example.
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from North Carolina Wesleyan College, he stayed on campus serving in roles that supported student success initiatives. From there, he applied to the NC State College of Education where he pursued a master’s of education in counseling education and began working for Pitt Community College.
Today, Spain serves as the assistant vice president of student development and community standards at Pitt Community College. He provides vision and leadership to areas of student conduct, title IX, minority male and men’s resource initiatives, student activities, intramural sports, and recreation. He oversees diversity and inclusion related efforts, student mentoring and leadership initiatives, and student engagement.
During his time there, he has created three student scholarships — two for minority males and one for students participating in the college’s first-year mentoring program. He also serves on advisory boards for N.C. Community College System Minority Male Success Initiative and Student Conduct and Title IX.
“Beyond God and family, no other factor contributes more to a healthy life than education,” he said. “I saw through my personal experience what not taking education seriously could do. I use my story to be the model of what not to do.”
Males Addressing Issues and Needs
Spain believes the speed bump in his academic career helped him understand the internal and external factors — or demons as he puts it — that were influencing the type of man he was becoming.
The issues he faced were not unique. In his role at PCC, he saw other young men facing the same obstacles preventing them from being able to build healthy habits and grow into productive contributors to society. That’s why he founded the Males Addressing Issues and Needs Initiative, or the MAIN Initiative for short.
The MAIN Initiative assists in the healthy development of the male population, with a particular emphasis on young men of color, by providing opportunities and experiences in two key areas: holistic education and holistic development.
Through these experiences, the initiative encourages participants to explore their own identities and purpose in life through connections to the community and humanitarian values such as compassion and peace. It also provides space for mental, physical, social, emotional and spiritual growth.
“As a result of these teachable moments and knowledge demonstrations, participants will be confident and courageous leaders, ambitious scholars, and ultimately, valuable contributors to society through means of character, grit and perseverance,” Spain said.
Participants find mentors, attend leadership programs, learn about equity, diversity and inclusion, and resolve conflict through mediators. They also learn how to process success. For Spain, it’s important that the initiative serves as a springboard instead of a last resort. That’s why the program also addresses things like how to handle new career opportunities, promotions, increases in salaries, and corporate sponsorships.
“We know that for every issue, there is a need. Our goal is to help young men and boys prepare themselves to address these matters and to make them understand that they are not alone,” he said.
Through his work with MAIN, Spain was selected as a 2019 cohort fellow with the Campaign for Black Male Achievement’s American Express Leadership Fellowship. The national membership network, of which the MAIN Initiative is a member, seeks to ensure the growth, sustainability and impact of leaders and organizations committed to improving the life outcomes of black men and boys.