Flint, MI—If you live in Flint, you probably know John Rhymes or have heard of his work with youth and minorities. Rhymes–community leader, and former Flint Schools educator–turned 73 this month. His one birthday wish? To continue helping young men and women of color succeed—and for the Flint community to help make that happen.
Rhymes founded his nonprofit The Institute of R.H.Y.M.E.S in 2002. The organization provides mentorship and coaching for minority youth to help them build important life skills.
But the pandemic has taken a toll on the Institute of R.H.Y.M.E.S, like it has for many organizations across the country. For his birthday, Rhymes is asking those who know him and believe in the cause to donate.
Jason Rogers, who has known Rhymes for over 10 years, started a Go Fund Me to help raise $10,000 for the institute. At present, donations have yet to surpass $1,000.
“[Rhymes] is unceasing in the belief of the potential and power of our youth. If I were asked to provide one word to describe Mr. Rhymes, it is empowerment. He helps foster a belief in self which lays the foundation for confidence for life. It also lays the foundation for young men to give back,” Rogers said.
“The first thing that is apparent with John is his passion for meeting young men where they are irrespective of socioeconomic disparities, traumas, etc. and finding that ‘thing’ that reaches them individually.”
Rhymes grew up in Hazlehurst, Miss., and was the youngest of 12 children. He lost both of his parents in his youth. The resulting hardships inspired him to become a resource to others.
His aunt, Vinnie Gilmore, raised him and his siblings but Rhymes said she lacked a formal education.
“My auntie was not a person who was very well educated. So, I had to really make sure that I was very focused at school. It’s from the kinds of things that I had to deal with, it made me a stronger person. And it helped me to realize that I have to go out there and reach out and help people,” he said.
Rhymes did well, but when it came time for college, the money just wasn’t there. Unable to pay for his courses, he returned to Hazlehurst.
“I ended up coming home to my church that Sunday and the pastor said, ‘What are you doing here?’ When I told him, he said, ‘I’m putting you back on the bus tonight. You’re going back to school.’”
The pastor gave him a letter and instructed him to deliver it to a certain gentlemen who helped him find a work-study job to pay his way through school.
“I think I was motivated to be a person that helps other people because I feel that I was helped as a young man growing into manhood,” Rhymes said.
He moved to Flint in 1970 and obtained his master’s degree in guidance and counseling from Eastern Michigan University. He then spent 32 years teaching at Flint Schools before retiring in 2003. Between 2003-2008, he served as director of the Sylvester Broome Center.
To further his commitment to helping young men, Rhymes launched the Institute of R.H.Y.M.E.S Men of Excellence program, a mentorship opportunity aimed for boys in the 6th-12th grades.
Sixteen-year-old Antonio Sweeny is president of the Men of Excellence program and said he’s learned how to be a leader because of it.
“[Rhymes] made me better. He made me great…He always tells us to be good, to try and do something with your life. An affirmation that I live by, thanks to him, is ‘smart men learn from their mistakes, while wise men learn from watching others’ mistakes,’” Sweeny said.
Breaunté Brown served as a Men of Excellence mentor for the past two years. He said Rhyme’s warmth and good nature inspired him to get involved.
“He welcomed me in, and I’ve always felt like he was a father figure. He has something that makes you comfortable and he has helped me become more of a man,” Brown said.
“Father figure” seems to be a sentiment shared by others.
“From my perspective, Mr. Rhymes is a father figure for so many,” Erica Leverette-Traoré said, a board member for the Institute of R.H.Y.M.E.S and Rhymes’ former student.
“When I was about 5 years old, I began kindergarten at Stewart Elementary. I was quite sickly as a child and needed to go home frequently. [I later learned] that I am a diabetic. Mr. Rhymes would always take me home, and I remember him holding my hand as he would come get me from class. Always patient and kind,” Leverette-Traoré said.
To donate, visit the organization’s Go Fund Me page. Gifts can be made in any amount.