URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — As the world continues to wade through the pandemic and its various effects, the impact our educators have only soared to the front of many minds. Not just from shortages of teachers at institutions but the dire need for youth to see examples of leaders in the classroom they can follow. In Urbana, a high school sophomore has taken on the challenge.

Mycal Turner attends Urbana High School where he was appointed as one of the first student ambassadors in 2021. In that same year, he was also approached by Janice Mitchell who is the founder of the Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center. Since that happened in 2010, over 50 kids in District 116 have received healthy meals, homework help, and peer mentoring. They also attend “Mr. Mycal’s” class where they learn hygiene, nutrition and most importantly, their value.

“Our perceptions and how we look on the news, in global headlines and all around us, it’s not always positive. But when we come to this safe place and we’re able to relate to each other, there’s a commonality, we’re able to say oh this student who I like she has great grades, she’s doing an amazing job. So maybe I can too.”

For Mycal, his mission through this after-school class he’s had for a year now is to “change the narrative.” Originally, Janice tasked Mycal to assist with technology concerns at the UNCC. But before she passed away in November 2021, she saw Mycal could fulfill a larger role. Becoming the youth mentor the younger generation can lean on. Including fifth grader Cajuan Lawrence. Mycal says Cajuan is a student who has embraced learning and now appreciates his education.

“You can go to college if you want, it’s your choice. I recommend going to college because you can get a good education and after college decide what you wanna be in your life and not some person on the couch being lazy,” says Cajuan.

Cajuan goes to Leal Elementary School in Urbana, which allows him access to UNCC. But most importantly, he’s connecting with other peers in class. He eventually realized one of his besties, Madyson, was there too. She goes to Dr. Preston L. Williams Jr. Elementary School and they’ve known each other since second grade. Thanks to their shared love for the Stranger Things show and Chicken Alfredo. Even early on, Cajuan has realized how important good friendships can be.

For Madyson, “Mr. Mycal’s” class has opened her eyes to ideals she never gave a thought to beforehand. For instance, after learning better eating habits with My-Plate, she will now give nutrition labels a glance. She also understands calories, the role cooking styles play and more. She’s also realizing as a fifth grader herself, it’s never too early to invest in your education. As she and Cajuan’s bond grows stonger, so does Mycal’s passion for teaching and reaching youth.

“Pay attention so that you can know it and then it will just be at the front of your mind all the time. If it’s at the front of your mind all the time, then you don’t even have to think, it just happens,” says Madyson.

Mycal is also a member of the ACT-SO Achievement Program, or Afro-Cultural Technological Scientific Olympics. It’s where he and 300,000 other youth showcase their talents on a national stage for awards and recognition. He’s also in the Ambassadors of music program, an invite only ensemble that travels the world to play music. This summer they’ll tour the U.K., France, Austria and even Germany. But they still need $4,000 of their $10,000 goal so they can go.

If you would like to help support Mycal and donate toward his trip, just click here.

For more on Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center and its impact, click here.