In their corner: Jerrell Engermann promoting education over violence

In their corner: Jerrell Engermann promoting education over violence

Jerrell Engermann photo

Jerrell Engermann never had any interest in being in a gang.

When he was growing up on the outskirts of Boston, he tried his best to avoid conflict rather than incite any trouble.

He was too busy being a kid.

“I was more focused on going to school and playing sports,” says Engermann, a senior relationship manager at Empower.

But while Engermann didn’t spend his youth roaming the streets, selling drugs and picking fights, he was fully aware of the crime that surrounded his neighborhood on a regular basis. It was hard to miss. In the area of Mattapan, gun violence and illegal conduct have always caused major anxiety and tension for residents.  

“That was just my reality,” Engermann says.

“I definitely experienced the fear of being young and afraid and not knowing which was the safest way to walk home.”

Now, as an adult, Engermann is giving back to his community by helping at-risk individuals move forward on a better path.

Engermann recently joined the board of directors of Boston Uncornered, a revolutionary program offered by a local nonprofit organization called College Bound Dorchester. The project, which was launched in 2016, equips young people with the skills, tools and resources to attend college and build a stronger foundation for their future. Its main mission is to end generational urban poverty by prioritizing education.

“We’re presenting a solution to the problem,” says Engermann, who now lives in Concord. “It’s a heavy lift, but being able to open doors for others is pretty amazing. I really wanted to get involved and do my part. I love that I can be a bridge for some of these guys and help provide them with a great opportunity.”

The unique model Boston Uncornered uses to create positive change is what separates itself from the rest of the pack.

Trained leaders, known as college readiness advisors, are deployed on the ground and placed on certain blocks to essentially recruit current gang members and “core influencers” into the Boston Uncornered system. To begin their journey, most people earn a stipend and gain access to mental health support. Students then receive the assistance they need to find a stable job or even become mentors themselves.

“We’re empowering them to take a different direction and achieve their goals,” Engermann says. “I think that’s a huge deal.”

Overall, Boston Uncornered’s game plan is aimed at cleaning up 10 of the most dangerous corners in the city.

Engermann, who works in the distribution core markets group at Empower, believes many people in the impacted circles can thrive if they have the right structure, guidance and attitude in place to succeed.

“Life is extremely tough for a lot of these guys,” Engermann says. “Something that seems crazy to us, like it’s out of a magazine or from a movie, is normal to them. It’s all they know and what they’ve been taught from an early age. But everyone deserves a second chance and to be treated equally in our world.”

What drives Engermann’s desire to serve actually stems from an incident he himself endured when he just 12 years old.

Engermann, who was a METCO student, was waiting at the Concord commuter rail train stop when a stranger confronted him and started yelling racial slurs and epitaphs at him. “I just sort of froze up,” says Engermann, who was heading home from basketball practice. His emotions were running high as he was confused, intimidated and scared.

Instead of responding to the man, though, Engermann escaped to a friend’s house and phoned his mom for help.

“That moment has always stuck out to me,” Engermann says. “It was a horribly traumatizing event to me. I was like, ‘Wow, what just happened?’ Looking back, I really appreciate my friend’s mother for her grace and compassion.

“It’s a situation that really shaped me as a person and led me to where I am today. That’s when I realized racism and social inequality were damaging to my community and that I wanted to be part of the solution.”

He’s fulfilling his promise, too.

In his new role as chairman of the board, Engermann wears many hats largely centered on raising money to expand Boston Uncornered’s footprint and promoting, and collaborating on, the effort’s vision, message and strategy.

“I’ve always been very passionate about helping others,” says Engermann, who also serves on the board of advisors for the YMCA in Waltham, Massachusetts. “This is one of those special causes that means a lot to me personally. Giving others opportunities that they would not have is a big deal for me. It’s one of those things that gets me excited to get out of bed every morning.”

Recent Articles