KENOSHA, Wis. — The school day starts bright and early for Carthage College student athlete JJ Fletcher. Before hitting the books, he’s pumping iron with the football team.

Fletcher is a freshman. For him, playing at a collegiate level has always been a dream. That’s why keeping up on his grades has been a top priority. It helps him stay eligible to play and will also help him when searching for his future career.

“I want to be a firefighter and on the backside, I want to be a police officer,” said Fletcher. “Whatever one falls into hand, I’ll do. I want to be a hero.” 

The transition from moving to Kenosha from his hometown of Chicago has been easy, thanks to his teammates.

The Carthage-Bound program has also played a role in his adjustment to college life. It’s a five-day pre-orientation hosted by faculty and student volunteers for freshman football players of color. 

“Taught a lot of tips about how to go about college,” said Fletcher. “We set our goals for the year. We set goals long-term and short-term. Just a lot of life work and how to be a better person as a student, athlete on the field and off the field.” 

The program was created by Dr. Michele Hancock. Hancock is the vice president of College Culture for Inclusion. 

“We recognized Carthage was struggling with having BIPOC — black, indigenous, people of color — students to remain beyond the first year,” said Hancock. “They felt like they didn’t belong here at Carthage, I believe. So based on the data we looked at, I decided to create this Carthage-Bound program to really help them believe they do belong at Carthage and they can be successful.”

Hancock said students of color make up 30% of Carthage College and that it’s important for them to know they’re welcomed on campus. 

“Make sure students feel that they do have a family, they have a family here at Carthage,” said Hancock of the many things they do in the program. “That they have people, adults, faculty, staff and their peers that they trust. To help them answer any questions they might have, guide them through any difficulties they might have.”

Fletcher said he’s thankful for the mentorship and the relationships he’s formed through Carthage-Bound. 

“I’ve been a minority before, but I’ve never felt that small before,” said Fletcher. “Carthage-Bound most certainly gave me reassurance about that.” 

He said he continues to use the skills he learned to excel both in the classroom and on the field.

Hancock said she’s hopeful to continue Carthage-Bound next year and eventually expand the program. ​