“You could say I was ‘at risk’ because I had a lot of opportunities to do things that probably wouldn’t have benefited me at all,” Coe, a psychology major who wants to be a youth counselor, said. “No disrespect to my parents, but they were busy dealing with my older siblings. They didn’t have time to worry about what I was doing.”
Growing up in Baltimore, Coe — who goes by his first initial, “Q” — moved four times, but despite instability and other negative experiences, he became a helper. In middle school, he volunteered at his old daycare. In high school, he volunteered at a nearby Catholic school.
“There are a lot of kids there that have troubled pasts,” he said. “I did my senior project there. … I gave them a lesson about respect and set up a fundraiser with them. I created a video for them that they still use.”
Coe’s life experiences and volunteer work led him to choose psychology as a major.
“Being from Baltimore … there’s not a lot of minority male representation in the counseling world,” he said. “I see a lot of at-risk teens every day that just need someone to help direct them.
“It’s not an immediate process, but a gradual process. Show them you’ll be there for them. Give them some advice. Over the years, the youth have touched my heart and I want to steer them in the right path.”
His freshman year, Coe joined Man2Man, an organization based out of the Office of Equity and Inclusion that focuses on developing successful men of color. He admits it was initially free pizza that attracted him, but he kept going to meetings and eventually became the group’s president.
“The more I came, I was actually interested in it and what they were trying to do,” Coe said.
As Man2Man’s president, Coe has passed down what he’s learned. “As upperclassmen, we help build freshman and sophomores that are just coming in, kind of like helping bring them into adulthood,” he said. “We give them advice that our mentors have been giving us.”
Dr. Aaron Smith, OEI’s former director and current dean for student development, has noticed changes in Coe. “Academically, he’s gotten a lot stronger over the course of his involvement with the organization,” Smith said, adding that with the added responsibility of being president, “he’s learned to delegate a little more.”
Smith went on to describe Coe as a leader and “great mobilizer of people” and said, “People want to follow him. Q is faithful and he’s been there and is a large part of the group’s growth. He’s a very strong leader. He might be reluctant to be called a leader, but he’s a natural. As a result, people follow him, whether he might want them to or not.”
One place people have followed Coe to is the local Boys & Girls Club. During the school year, Coe volunteers there four days a week and is often joined by students from Man2Man and other campus groups, including Bonner Leaders and Greek Life.
Recruiting volunteers wasn’t easy, though. “There was a stigma around the Boys & Girls Club that everybody that talked about it was like they didn’t want to go there,” Coe said. “Just a bunch of bad-ass kids [and] assuming they’d be unruly and not listen to them.
“People want to follow him. Q is faithful and … he’s a very strong leader. He might be reluctant to be called a leader, but he’s a natural.”
— Dr. Aaron Smith
“Me, because of my background, being from Baltimore, I didn’t really see a bad kid. They were just being themselves the only way they knew how. Because of the relationships I have with the kids, I tried to change their perspectives.”
Now, dozens of Lynchburg students volunteer with the club, including several women, which Coe said is a good addition. “There are not a lot of women volunteers. There are a lot of girls in the club, especially last year, and there are some things they’d talk to [the female volunteers] about — advice that might be better from a woman.”
At the club, the Lynchburg students play games with the kids, help them with homework, and take them on field trips. More one-on-one, they encourage them to try their best and succeed. “With the little kids, it’s showing them that they can accomplish something,” Coe said. “I usually deal with the most difficult kids. For some reason, they listen to me more.”
When kids get frustrated about learning to read, for example, Coe challenges them. “I’ll say, ‘I don’t think you can read that’ and they try to prove me wrong,” he said, adding that sometimes the kids will then ask him to brag on them, saying, “Can you tell my mom I read this book?”
“With the guys, a lot of them are sports-driven and I can give them that conversation. … If that sport doesn’t work out, direct that same passion for that sport into something else and I guarantee you’ll be successful.”
With the teenagers, Coe said, it’s often about showing them there are opportunities beyond professional sports and the streets. “Showing them what they can do outside of high school and outside of the stuff they do on the streets, outside of sports,” said Coe, who was once a competitive basketball player and track athlete.
“With the guys, a lot of them are sports-driven and I can give them that conversation. I clearly look like an athlete and used to be. If that sport doesn’t work out, direct that same passion for that sport into something else and I guarantee you’ll be successful.”
As one might imagine, at 6-foot-6 Coe is in high demand on the Boys & Girls Club basketball court, but he says that’s far from his main reason for volunteering. “The main thing is just developing relationships with the kids,” he said. “With a lot of kids, they don’t have that many people to look up to and are more closed off. … One girl, last year, she was really, really bad.
“She was always getting in fights, always cursing the staff out. She didn’t have respect for a lot of people. I don’t know how, but we became kind of close. I’m cool with all the kids — I’ll never tell them who my favorite is — but we became really close.”
Coe said the girl came to him for advice and, over time, he started to see a difference in her. “She started to calm down and was not as quick tempered,” he said. “It was touching to see how much she had changed. She lives down in North Carolina now and visited up here last semester and I got to see her. … She’s definitely changed a lot for the better.”