From mentee to mentor, former Soulsville Charter School student Jameel Best comes home to be a teacher

It’s late July and relatively quiet on the Soulsville campus except for the music playing from the speakers in the parking lot and the busloads of visitors unloading in front of the Stax Museum. The Soulsville Charter School (TSCS) and Stax Music Academy (SMA) students are still on summer break, but there’s one TSCS alumnae visiting the Soulsville Foundation offices. He’s not really a visitor anymore because as of the start of the 2016-2017 school year, he will be the physical education teacher at TSCS. His name is Jameel Best and he graduated in 2012. Now he is back and can’t wait to begin teaching and mentoring the middle school students the way the faculty taught and mentored him as a young student.

Jameel enrolled in TSCS halfway through the 8th grade and it was an eye-opening experience.

“At first I thought it was way too strict,” he laughs. “I remember when I first came here I was talking with [original principal] Dr. David Hill and I was kind of slouched in my chair. He told me to sit up straight and straighten my back and look him directly in the eye and I thought, what? No one in a school position had ever said anything to me like that and that was the first thing that let me know that this school was going to be different.”

Asked how things progressed and how he came to love the school, Jameel laughs again and says, “I got to love everything about the school except the Grammy system,” which is the school’s way of rewarding or taking away points for things like behavior and following the school code. “I always ended up getting my Grammy points taken away for things like chewing gum, talking on code red [when students aren’t supposed to say a word], and not wearing my blazer! That was the biggest one because I used to hate wearing that blazer!”

But Jameel not only progressed into a model student. In his senior year he was accepted to Tuskegee University, University of Memphis, Xavier University New Orleans, Tennessee State University, Middle Tennessee State University, University of Tennessee at Knoxville, and Morehouse College.

He spent his first year at Tuskegee University on full scholarship but that first year of college was, as it is for many students, not the greatest success story.

“I grew up in a very strict household and that helped during high school, but when you come from a home like that and then go to college and you’re around other students and have all that freedom it’s easy to crash and burn some. I didn’t break but I sure did bend – big time,” he laughs.

After that first year at Tuskegee, Jameel transferred to Ole Miss and then finally finished his degree in Exercise Science at Mississippi Valley State University (during his last semester he was playing football, taking 26 credit hours, and was president of the school’s chapter of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity). When he came home from college earlier this summer, Jameel was interested in attending the University of Memphis and playing basketball for the Tigers, but that didn’t work out. Something else was meant to be.

“I got a call from [Middle School Direcgtor] Mr. Upchurch and he said he might have an opportunity for me and I thought to myself, ‘WHAT? Keep Talking!’ And he asked me if I would like to come back to Soulsville to work. I hadn’t really thought about that but when he said it all of those memories about Soulsville came back and I thought how great it would it be to be back here, but as a teacher, and be an example that this isn’t just some dream the teachers are selling to the students. I come from the same background as the students. I come from the same kind of household and the same ethnic background. So I thought it would be a good way to be an example of what the dream really is that the teachers are teaching here.”

Jameel is now a part of The Soulsville Charter School faculty, currently in orientation and ready to begin teaching physical education to and mentoring middle school students.

I’m looking so forward to mentoring the students the way my teachers mentored me,” he says. “And some of the kids who were in sixth grade when I was here are still here. I ran into one in the hallway the other day and he asked me what I was doing here and I said, ‘Man, I’m going to be a teacher here!’

“And that’s what it’s all about. When they see themselves in me they will think well, if he can do it I can do it. I think that just gives them more a push to do the things they should be doing.

“It’s just crazy to be working alongside all these teachers who knew me as the Jameel that chewed gum and talked on code red and wouldn’t wear my blazer and now I went away to college for six years and came back a grown man. It’s almost surreal. I’m a product of TSCS and now this product has come back to help these students achieve their dreams like I did. It’s an amazing feeling. “