Courtesy of Yale You Can Too

On Aug. 15, Janalie Cobb ’24 and Jennifer Okolo ’24 launched the Yale chapter of the You Can Too Program, a free mentorship initiative hosted by BIPOC college students. The program is dedicated to providing academic support, college preparation and education for BIPOC middle and high school students, focusing on issues pertinent to those groups.

Cobb, who serves as president of the chapter, has had experience with mentorship and tutoring programs since high school. Okolo, vice president of the Yale chapter, has also had a longtime passion for social justice and community service. Together, through You Can Too at Yale, they plan to help create the next generation of BIPOC leaders.

“The idea for bringing You Can Too to Yale had little to do with the benefit the organization could bring to the Yale community, but purely what our students could give back to the outside world,” Cobb said.

The Yale chapter of You Can Too began looking for students to apply as mentors in August. Throughout the mentorship application process, the Yale chapter searched for BIPOC students who are deeply invested in the academic and personal development of their mentees and willing to commit to You Can Too’s motto of “paying it forward,” which revolves around helping create chains of change and kindness.

According to Okolo, the group’s executive team read and reviewed the applications. They picked mentors they believed could “serve their mentees in the most enriching way possible.”

Jade Villegas ’24, one of the accepted applicants, now serves as one of the two co-managers of Yale’s chapter of the mentorship program.

“As co-manager, my responsibilities are directly involved with the mentors themselves,” Villegas said. “We bridge the gap between the president and vice president and work to keep the branch running smoothly.”

Despite the pandemic, You Can Too has had an easy shift to its current virtual format, Cobb said. According to Cobb, the group hosts meetings every two weeks for mentors and mentees in which the mentors share two PowerPoint presentations — one academic and one connected to a broader theme, such as “growth and learning” — and discuss their contents.

“To increase camaraderie between our mentors and mentees we have game nights or other Zoom-friendly activities,” Okolo wrote in an email to the News. “We also may include guest speakers to speak to our mentees about various topics.”

The purpose of the program’s curriculum, Okolo explained, is to encourage participating middle and high school students to create a relationship with their mentor, even if they are not meeting in person.

According to Okolo, exposure and education related to Black history and politics is meant to prepare these young students for success.

“Too often, the curriculum in high schools skips crucial facts of Black and brown history,” Okolo said. “You Can Too is an opportunity to fix the gap of knowledge Black, brown and Latinx students feel when it comes to education.”

The mentors of the Yale chapter of the initiative are working with students in eight different schools around the country, and the program means a great deal to the executive board and mentors, according to Cobb.

Cobb added that You Can Too has allowed her to expand what she has been able to do and how many people “[she] can help on an individual level.”

Okolo shared a similar sentiment, that “You Can Too also creates a sense of community where our mentees can feel heard and supported. We have seen firsthand how difficult adjusting to high school and college has been, and the ability to support another student through the process is extremely rewarding.”

The national You Can Too Program was founded in 2019.

Bryan Ventura | bryan.ventura@yale.edu