CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- For some kids college isn't even thought about.

"I'm beyond excited. It's been a very difficult process," said Janylah Smith, who is counting the days until she starts as a freshman marketing major at UNC Greensboro.

A few years ago, she wasn't sure what she wanted to do.

"I know that I've always liked to talk, but I never really knew how to use that and to channel that to make it of use in today's society," Smith said.

Things started to fall in place when she joined the Young Black Leadership Alliance in Charlotte.

  • The Young Black Leadership Alliance (YBLA) was founded by John Martin.
  • YBLA's goal is to develop young black men and women into leaders. 
  • More information on YBLA.

"We're trying to develop leaders to impact their communities," said John Martin, the founder. 

Softspoken with a background in project management, he started YBLA with his wife 12 years ago.

"He wanted to live a life of significance, [and to] not just be successful," said YBLA Co-Founder and John's wife, Tammy Martin.

He wasn't happy with how black men were being represented in the media.

“They have this image of tattoos and thugs and people failing. What we wanted to do is focus on positive,” said Brown.

That continues to be the driver, but he also pushes students.

“It was more of a, ‘Hey I'm not going to sit here hold your hand through it, you're going to do it, and watch the benefits that come with it,’” said YBLA participant Dezmon Hall.

The YBLA trains young black men, and recently, young black women to get into college and transform into leaders. They are taught to network, take part in service work and they also learn how to dress with class.

In a time when division dominates the headlines, Martin's goal of building greater equality is admittedly big, but that doesn't stop him.

“It's kind of like bamboo. It's growing underground for many years, and then it shoots up. Someday, someone is going to say it happened overnight. If you bring up one part of the community, you bring up the whole community as well,” he said.

Turning kids who are sometimes counted out into our leaders is something Martin says benefits everyone.

The YBLA has 500 students. They must have a 3.0 GPA to join.

The graduates have gone on to colleges all over the country and they work in a range of fields.

For more information about YBLA please visit here.

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