A Step Ahead

Some say a bond between siblings is the strongest one you can have.

A brother or sister is a person you can count on to console you when you're feeling down, someone who's there when you just need someone to trust.

For La' Fattai Wheeler, a junior at Rancho High School, the bond she has with her brothers and sisters from The Alpha Men and Divas of Tomorrow organization is one she'll value for life.

Though they aren't bonded by blood, they're bonded nonetheless.

"We're always caring for each other, especially when someone is down," she explains. "We always look out for one another."

Founded in 1995 by Las Vegas City Councilman Ricki Barlow and Darryl Green at Doolittle Community Center, the Alpha Men and Divas of Tomorrow is a youth group organization whose mission is to "mentor young men and women to graduate high school and go to a four-year college or university."

Students from any high school, in any grade, can join the Alphas.

Kayla Bilbrew, a senior at Northwest Career and Technical Academy, remembers when she first joined the group.

"I joined because I wanted to meet new people and have the opportunity to have new mentors to help me succeed in my endeavors," she says.

The organization holds bimonthly meetings where members discuss upcoming events and community happenings. The Alpha Men have a president and vice president, from male group members, and the Divas have the same positions, culled from the female group members. However, the secretary, treasurer, parliamentarian and webmasters come from the whole group collectively.

Members learn how to write resumes and receive their SAT and ACT waivers and keep track of their college application fees through the organization. They also have access to networking and scholarship opportunities.

"There are resources available for our members to take advantage of," says Kevin Wright, Alpha Men president and Advanced Technologies Academy senior.

Besides providing members with college preparatory resources, the group participates in service events in their community.

Some of the organizations the Alphas have worked with include The Shade Tree shelter and March of Dimes.

They also have taken part in the Black Books Bonanza event, where the group helps young students discuss and present literature from African-Americans.

"That's one of the reasons why I'm so dedicated to this organization," says Cimarron-Memorial High School senior Jana Lilly. "With our different aspects of service, we have an opportunity to impact children's lives positively."

Besides participating in service work, the unit showcases its performing arts side through stepping, a dance form that originated from African folk dance. Instead of using music, however, the beats are made with the dancers' hands and feet.

Wheeler is one of the group's two step captains whose main job is to coordinate the steps for the routines.

"Stepping is fun," she says. "Stepping with my girls is the most fun I've had in a long time."

The Alphas have performed at various places across the country and overseas. The Men and Divas also won first place for "Best Step Team" at the Martin Luther King Jr. parade in January.

"I was so excited when we won," Wheeler says. "Nobody thought we could do it."

Despite all their dedication to the community and to stepping, the group members don't lose sight of their academic goals. When a member joins the group, they are expected to have a 2.5 grade-point average; however, the average GPA is around 3.5. Recent graduates of the program have gone to Arizona State University, Howard University, Hampton College and University of Nevada, Reno.

The group also tours several universities in order to expose their members to college life and different schools. In the past year, they've visited Southern Utah University, Pepperdine University, University of Southern California and University of California, Los Angeles.

"We have a drive to be the best," says Canyon Springs High School senior Henry Black, vice president of the Alpha Men. "You join to make a change in your life, go somewhere and succeed."