Jamaal Eubanks sharing a moment with his daughter at
Pivotal Transitions Mentoring Program
Helping Youth through the
rows. I visited some buddies out in LA and I actually went by skid row. I was like, ‘Wow, this is super depressing.’ I went to see some buddies
in Atlanta and I saw different areas that are super poverty stricken. You don’t really experience that here in Madison. You are aware. You get a
brief, general overview of poverty and you get a brief general overview of gangs, violence and crime. But you don’t necessarily get the super,
in-depth experience of it that you do in major cities. But at the same time, you do get enough where when you go to another city, you’re not
naïve. You are aware of your surroundings. You just don’t necessarily have to experience it if you don’t want to, not full on.”
Eubanks talked about a saying growing up in Madison, that you either “bang or ball” to get out of rough neighborhoods. He chose the balling
and developed his sports talents through the Southside Raiders and the South Madison Spartans. He eventually got good enough to play
college basketball after graduating at Huntington College after graduating from West High in 2002 and transferring from Alabama State after one
Through his involvement in those sports teams, Eubanks got more than just physical fitness.
“Those were interventions that were put in place to try and keep kids from steering down the wrong path,” Eubanks said. “Did it always work?
No. But did they catch more kids than they would have if nothing was there? Easily!”
In spite of the efforts of his mom and the many mentors who entered his life, Eubanks had to fight a lot of self-doubt and negativity. While he
graduated with a degree in history from Huntington, he didn’t look at himself as being smart until he went for a master’s degree in education at
Edgewood College and earned a 3.9 GPA.
It was a lot of “wasted” years trying to get to that point and so Eubanks wanted to save students coming after him the grief. Eubanks and a
couple of buddies — all three were involved in education at some level — were sitting around one night talking and they came up with a
“We were just talking about all of the different mentors we’ve had,” Eubanks said. “And then come to find out, we had a lot of the same
mentors, which we found kind of ironic. But at the same time, we understood that those guys were important in our lives to get us to where we
are or to keep us away from where we could have gone. Being back in Madison, we were like, ‘We have to figure out a way that we can give
back to the kids because Madison isn’t the same as the city we grew up in.’ We started brainstorming and looked at what we had been doing.
We had been serving as mentors to kids or the guys younger than us and we didn’t really realize that. As we sat down and started
brainstorming, we thought, ‘Let’s come up with a mentoring program.’ We mapped out everything: curriculum, vision, mission and other things.
When we left that meeting, the only thing that we were missing was a name. I remember going home and literally getting into bed around 10 p.
m. and staring at my ceiling until about 5 a.m. and it literally just hit me. It came to me as Pivotal Transitions.”
Pivotal Transitions is a grassroots mentoring program that is working with a cohort of about 13 female fourth graders as well as individual
students from various age groups. Eubanks is especially proud of the fourth grade cohort. In addition to hosting a biweekly mentoring session
at their offices on Triverton Pike Dr. in Fitchburg on a range of youth development topics, the girls have also formed an amateur basketball
“It started off pretty rocky, but they have been listening and working hard,” Eubanks said with pride. “They are now starting to see some
success and working harder. In one tournament, we placed second and third in another. We compete in tournaments around the city of
Madison. And we are going to look to continue to grow and build.”
Pivotal Transitions’ signature event is their Back to School Kick-Back, which is being held August 27th at Angel’s Joy Learning Center, 4293
W. Beltline Hwy., from 3-6 p.m. It is an idea that was inspired by Eubanks’ work as an SEA at Cherokee before he got his current job as a cross
categorical special education teacher.
“I was working with a kid one day and noticed looking down at his shoes that they had duct tape on the front of them to keep them together,”
Eubanks said. “The next day, he came in with the same shoes. The other shoe had a big hole in the bottom of it and it had been storming that
day and I could actually see his socks through the bottom. I reached out to people on Facebook because I didn’t wear his same shoe size. I
shared the story and got a bunch of people who donated slightly-used shoes. And one family bought a brand-new pair. And so, I took him to
school and presented the shoes to him. He was super appreciative and kind of broke down crying and just thanked me.”
And so Pivotal Transition’s back to school event focuses on helping the youth look the part of the student with free shoes, while they last, free
haircuts and other goodies to help them feel the part of a student.
As one can imagine, the demand has far outstripped the supply.
“We came to the west side in the Allied Drive area and did it at the Angel’s Joy Learning Center,” Eubanks said. “We were expecting 150-200
kids because of the way the numbers had incrementally been going up. Well we ended up with about 500 people showing up and we weren’t
ready or prepared for them, but we still made it work. Personally I went out and bought more backpacks and supplies just to make sure that we
had something for them. Our barbers worked overtime making sure everyone had a free haircut to go back to school in style.”
Small grassroots groups like Pivotal Transitions go a long way in helping Black students face the transitional gauntlet they face on the way to
For more information on Pivotal Transitions and how you can help them meet the demand, email Jamaal Eubanks at email@example.com.
By Jonathan Gramling
Being Black and growing up in Madison can be an especially perilous journey,
especially for young Black men. Many don’t have a father actively engaged in
their lives and there are many temptations out there luring them to dangerous
situations. And there is a lot of misinformation out there about young Black
men that can easily shackle them and point them in the wrong direction,
invisible hands of misguidance.
Jamaal Eubanks, one of the co-founders of Pivotal Transitions should know.
He grew up in the heart of South Madison on Baird Street.
“I was lucky enough growing up that I had a number of people just come in
and out of my life who tried to steer me on the right path,” Eubanks said. “I
ended up with a lot of friends who ended up steering down the wrong path,
similar to stories of kids who grew up in Chicago. A lot of my friends either
passed on or ended up incarcerated at some point. Growing up in Madison, I
feel, is a gift and a curse. Some of the stuff that you do see and some you don’t.
You are aware of certain things, for example, poverty. You’re aware of
poverty, but you don’t really understand the depth of how bad some people can
have it in other places. You don’t really see the super, down-on-your-luck skid