[YU?] offered 2020 Graduates a Virtual Reality (VR) Commencement Ceremony in response to COVID-19

Recent graduate, Miss. Oluwaeyitan “Sey” Oloyede, and Dr. Renaldo Blocker after the commencement ceremony.

“I always knew that my college graduation was going to be a moment I would always remember, but I never knew I would be experiencing this moment in virtual reality”. Oluwaseyitan “Sey” Oloyede, a graduating student from Georgia Southern University was very devastated when COVID-19 disrupted the status quo of normalcy and students like herself all over the nation were sent home to finish up the school year. Given the many adaptions schools across this country were forced to make in the wake of this COVID-19 pandemic, the canceling of graduation ceremonies was one of the tough decisions.

The “Why You?” Initiative, Inc., [YU?] Board of Directors believed it was time to rapidly introduce a more innovative way to connect with students and prepare students for their new normal.

[YU?], a nonprofit organization based in Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN was established to eradicate barriers to minority students and young professionals’ academic & professional success by effectively delivering longitudinal support via a fusion of technological and traditional mediums. Since its’ 2011 inception, [YU?] has been known for effectively delivering programming and mentorship using online platforms such as Zoom,, Google Hangouts, Skype, Webex, GotoMeeting, Microsoft Teams and etc., well before the recent trends and need for online engagement and connectivity.

The traditional method of face-to-face communication will never go away, however, the virtual space is a game changer and [YU?] has been a trendsetter in re-engineering and redefining “virtual” paradigms. For nearly 10 years, [YU?] has led with the future is now. The organization has been providing virtual tutoring, Mathematics and English laboratories, mentorship engagement, conferences, professional development webinars, board meetings, planning meetings, and much more.

Commencement ceremony view from the stage. Dr. Ayee Azah providing the commencement speech

Since its conception, [YU?] has been very successful in the use of online platforms; 88% of its high school students enroll in college and the other 12% enroll in technical schools/public service academies. 81% of undergraduate students enroll in a graduate program and the other 19% secure full-time career positions. 95% of its graduate students secure full time career positions and the other 5% continue more academic training.

There are a number of contributing factors, which includes their longitudinal support model designed to meet the individual needs of the students and maximize their outcomes.  Dr. Renaldo Blocker, a co-founder, stated that “[YU?] was developed to create a “system of support” around the student no matter where the student resides, which is why the online engagement component was essential to the organization’s support system.”

No stranger to implementing cutting-edge technology, [YU?] quickly employed virtual reality (VR) by partnering with LearnBrite, Inc. and CEO, Danny Stefanic. The [YU?] Board of Directors wanted to provide the graduating class an unforgettable experience. Dr. Blocker piloted the virtual reality platform with 13 of his direct mentees. The students (i.e. high school, college and graduate students) truly enjoyed the new way of engagement. One mentee and doctoral candidate, Emmanuel Tetteh, mentioned that “the virtual reality environment—I think is great especially in this era of social distancing. I was actually fascinated about how the screens on the wall were linked to actual helpful materials online.”

Prior to the VR graduation, the organization mailed Smartphone VR Headsets to the students to use during the commencement ceremony. The intent was to replicate a commencement ceremony and for students to feel immersed in a physical environment instead of viewing their graduation celebration on a screen. Students were extremely excited and had fun creating their avatar for the occasion. All graduates wore graduation caps during the ceremony.

The students invited family, friends, and others to their VR graduation. The commencement ceremony was held in a virtual reality auditorium on June 10, 2020 at 5:30PM CST and was similar in nature to a physical graduation ceremony. You could hear Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance Marches ring throughout the virtual auditorium as the students began their processional march down the staircase and sat in the front row of the auditorium seating section. On the stage sat a few [YU?] Board Members, special guests and key presenters for the ceremony. The ceremony included a commencement speaker, Dr. Ayeetin Azah, a Lieutenant in the United State Navy, a Flight Surgeon and a [YU?] Mentor. Mr. Tizon Matthews, an undergraduate mentee, sung the historic African American National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” by James Weldon Johnson. Miss. Yusra Yusuf, an undergraduate mentee, performed a thought provoking spoken word piece to honor the graduates. The graduation ended with the presentation of candidates by Miss Cassandra Sheppard, Dr. Dorian Davis and Dr. Renaldo Blocker. The students’ names were called and each student walked across the stage, as their family, friends and fellow students clapped and cheered.

Miss Oloyede also expressed, “I’m so very grateful of [YU?], despite COVID-19 taking away my actual graduation, they made it possible for me to experience the commencement ceremony via VR. I’m so grateful for this opportunity.”

[YU?] is changing what it means to engage students online. [YU?] has always been the pioneers in online engagement with students, mentors, volunteers, staff and board members. The organization currently has students in 17 different states. With LearnBrite’s sponsorship, [YU?] is hastily moving toward the “next level” of utilizing and reimagining the virtual space impact on mentorship and programming. For [YU?], the future is already here.

Learn more about the The “Why You?” Initiative, Inc. contact Dr. Dorian Davis, Chair of the Board.

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Available Volunteer Positions@[YU?]


Position Title: Fund Development Director
Length of Term: Two years minimum`
Reports to: Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors

[YU?] is seeking a Fund Development Director to organize, execute and manage all aspects of grant writing, fund raising, and donor cultivation. The role entails advertising, writing grants, creating reports concerning progress and initiatives, building relationships with business and community members, coordinating fund raising events, and participating on [YU?] Board, mentorship program, and events.
Candidates should have impeccable leadership skills, written and verbal communications skills, strong organization skills, attention to detail and proficiency in word and spreadsheet processing applications and a willingness to learn.

Planning and Reporting

  • Broaden [YU?] fundraising by developing approaches such as planned giving, solicitation of bequests, and endowment programs
  • Develop and implement a comprehensive written annual resource development plan with strategies for donors and prospects in each constituent group including the following: individuals, faith groups, organizations, corporations, etc. to be approved by the Board.
  • Provide monthly reports to the board which measure progress towards achieving the plan.

Grants and Gifts

  • Identifying grant-funding opportunities.
  • Writing, submitting and managing grant proposals
  • Maintaining records in hard copies and computer databases.
  • Provide timely reporting and ensure compliance as required by grant award documentation.
  • Create and implement strategies for donor development and cultivation. Intent is to provide a diverse and sustainable funding base for [YU?].
  • Keep up-to-date on current fundraising programs, practices and procedures used in the nonprofit sector and inform the affiliate leadership of items that would benefit [YU?]
  • Identify and pursue new sources of corporate and foundation funding
  • Build and maintain relationships with major donors of all types, develop strategies for solicitation, and solicit or coordinate the solicitation by other affiliate staff, board or volunteers, as appropriate
  • Create and update collateral materials to support gift cultivation


  • Promote events to the business community as a way to support [YU?].
  • Develop and solicit sponsors for houses and events as needed.


  • Developing relationships and collaborating with key stakeholders.
  • Displaying adherence to [YU?] mission.
  • Maintaining proficient knowledge of [YU?] history and programs.


  • [YU?] Member
  • Attendance at bi-weekly Board meetings.
  • Attendance at monthly webinars, mentorship trainings, Fall Virtual Confab, and Spring Confab (optional).
  • Previous grant writing and fundraising experience preferred.
  • Proficient with MS Office Word and Excel.
  • Excellent organizational skills.
  • Ability to meet deadlines.
  • Proficient with measuring income goals.
  • Ability to gain knowledge of fundraising information sources.
  • Ability to work with minimal supervision.
  • Ability to handle multiple projects simultaneously.
  • Ability to work well with people from all backgrounds with varying degrees of experience
  • Confident public speaking and able to express ideas verbally and in writing.


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Dr. Renaldo Blocker, Co-Founder/CEO, receives national recognition for Excellence in Mentoring

Dr. Renaldo Blocker, will be nationally recognized for Excellence in Mentoring by MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership on next week, Wednesday, January 30, 2019 at a special Library of Congress Reception in Washington, DC. The four Excellence in Mentoring Awards (i.e. Corporate Leadership, Impactful Philanthropy, Lifetime Achievement, and Public Elevation) are presented annually to notable individuals and organizations. Dr. Blocker is a finalist for the Impactful Philanthropy Award for his work with The “Why You?” Initiative, Inc. (“[YU?]”). The Impactful Philanthropy Award is given to a foundation, company, individual philanthropist or board member who has made a significant impact on young people through investment of time and funds in mentoring programs and/or mentoring initiatives.

While [YU?] was officially established in 2011, Dr. Blocker has been supporting youth mentoring since 2002 when he was matriculating as an undergraduate at Albany State University (Albany, GA). Marie Beasley, doctoral student at Morgan State University and [YU?] mentee/mentor states, “it is very impressive to hear stories from his first mentees like the music/sound engineer and computer science major that traveled with professional artists (i.e. Black Eyed Peas, Keri Hilson, Musiq Soulchild, Janelle Monae and etc.) around the world for concerts/tours.” Dr. Blocker has played a pivotal role in countless underrepresented high school students, college students and young professionals; many who are now lawyers, teachers, scientists, soldiers and doctors. The stories of academic and professional growth from the current and past mentees are countless and many are currently volunteers for [YU?]. Dr. Blocker continues to play various roles in supporting youth mentoring; he’s a co-founder, an active mentor, a philanthropic, fundraiser, mentor trainer, professor, internship sponsor, parent engagement ambassador and etc. 

Dr. Blocker embodies a selfless commitment to increasing diversity in education attainment and workforce by not only giving his time to students and young professionals, but also giving his personal funds. Dr. Blocker has donated at least $25,000 per year to support mentoring efforts via [YU?]. He also tireless campaign for donations from his colleagues, friends, family and others quarterly to ensure that [YU?] has enough funds to operate. He secured management improvement funds from Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation/Saint Paul Foundation. He also managed to secure grant funding from various other foundations including the Dollar General Literacy Foundation and the Graves Foundation.  In addition, Dr. Blocker contributes significantly to [YU?]’s annual confab to ensure that most students connected to the organization is afforded an opportunity to benefit for the confab experience. Dr. Blocker’s innate ability to devote so much time and money to others’ success and still manage to be successful in his own career as a budding scholar and leader is astounding. 

Dr. Blocker believes that closing this proverbial “achievement gap” means reaching into the trenches and elevating the students that are often overlook because of their GPAs and/or perceived lack of ambition.

A huge congratulations to Dr. Blocker on this incredible honor!

As we end #MentoringMonth, it’s fitting to recognize Dr. Blocker as a mentor and philanthropist. He truly has impacted the lives of many [YU?]’s staff, volunteers, students, young professionals and families over the past 17 years.

For more information about the award, visit:

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Ms. Dianna Murray: A Young Activist with Vision & Plan

Dianna Murray is a young activist who wants to make changes in the educational system for black and brown bodies.

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Mr. Blake Young: Summer Internship Experience at World Renowned Medical Center

Blake Young is currently a sophomore enrolled at the University of Minnesota-Rochester.

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Ms. Jodi Boutté: On The Road to Completion

Jodi Boutté is currently obtaining her PhD in Engineering Science with a concentration in Human Factors in Healthcare at Louisiana State University A&M in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Mr. Jalen Jackson: Graduating High School Student Prepared for College

Jalen Jackson is currently a senior at St. Paul Central High School in Minnesota. He is self-oriented young man who enjoys being in collaborative groups and voicing his opinions.

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