Mentor group takes Florida space trip

Published 12:53 pm Saturday, June 30, 2018

On June 1 and 2, 11 local Southampton and Franklin middle and high school students who participate in the Young Lions Mentoring Program of Hope Focus Center (at First Baptist Church) got the experience of a lifetime, thanks to a local connection.

Curtis Wilkerson, a 1999 Franklin High School graduate and an aerospace engineer who works for the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, is on special assignment working on the rocket that will launch the Parker Solar Probe to the sun this July 31.

He was able to get special clearance for these students to visit and view the Astrotech Space Operations Center in Titusville, Florida, where the rocket is in its final stage of readiness.

The Parker Solar Probe is a space craft that will travel through the sun’s atmosphere over the course of the next seven years to provide the closest observations of a star to date. The students were able to see the heavy-duty rocket, touch the surface that will allow the space craft to withstand the sun’s high temperature, and talk to Wilkerson about his career path from Franklin High to space rockets.

In addition to visiting the rocket, the students toured NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, a working spacelight facility featuring exhibits and displays of historic spacecraft like the real space shuttle Atlantis, Apollo 8 and the Saturn V moon rocket, and rounded out their two-day experience on the beach at their hotel in Titusville.

Upon return, the boys were required to write short essays about their trip to be shared with their sponsors, whose generosity on short notice made this trip possible.

Many thanks to the following sponsors: Michael Smith; Dr. Alvin Harris; the Rev. Alvin Blowe; Lambda Psi Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.; the Franklin/Southampton Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.; Eternal Life Church; and First Baptist Church.

The students who went on the trip were Trevor Blow, Kevonta Brown, Ta’Quez Howell, ViKari Jarrett, Johnathan Jernigan, Richard Meades, Micari Meyers, Kwami Mitchell, Maleek Myers, Myron Rawlings Jr. and Jimmie Reid. The adult leaders were Ray Tucker, Jerrell King and Wynton Davis.

The Young Lions Mentoring program is a rites of passage for young boys in grades 6-12. The program offers African-American young men positive peer group involvement, hands-on skill development, knowledge of the African-American culture and relationship with male mentors as role models. From October to June, the program meets weekly and takes monthly field trips to colleges and to cultural and social enrichment events.

For more information, call Hope Focus Center at 562-7158.