South Jersey Councilman creates leadership academy to help teen boys prepare for a successful future

Alyana Gomez Image
Wednesday, March 6, 2024
South Jersey Councilman creates leadership academy to help teen boys prepare for a successful future
Beverly, NJ city council member Riccardo Dale created Free All Minds Leadership Academy to help teen boys prepare for successful future.

CAMDEN, New Jersey (WPVI) -- A city council member in South Jersey is spending his free time giving back by developing the leaders of tomorrow.

Councilman Riccardo Dale went down a dark path in his past. He failed out of high school and was living on the streets, but he turned it all around and created a leadership academy for Black and brown young men to guide them down a path of success.

"My mom always wanted me to go to college and I want to make her proud," said Elijah Ash, 14, from Maple Shade, New Jersey.

Ash has his sights set on success. He's one of 30 high school students turning his life around through the work of the Free All Minds Academy in Camden.

"My sophomore year in college, I started my non-profit called Free All Minds to make sure that kids from underprivileged backgrounds have the access to a college education or the access to a career path," said Dale.

Dale is the program's founder and at 26-years-old, he's the youngest City Councilman in Beverly, Burlington County. As a teenager, Dale says he was lost and spiraling out of control.

"I ended up going down the wrong path, failing classes, I was moving from home to home and it really took one of my mentors to step in my life and show me something different to turn things around," he said.

Now he's come full circle, mentoring young Black and brown teens in need of guidance and encouragement. O Sundays, he spends his time at Camden's Kipp High School.

Each week, they break bread together family style and then feed their minds through academic workshops.

"A workshop can go from SAT prep, to academic tutoring, to how to tie a tie or how to cook or how to dress for an interview," said Dale.

Then it's time to ball. They're turning hooping dreams into career aspirations, combining AAU basketball with college readiness.

"I've been on top of my grades and I got a 3.6 currently," said Angel Mieses, a junior at Leap Academy High School.

"We have a 100% high school graduation rate for all of the students that come through our program and a 96% college acceptance rate," said Dale.

Dale says their program is flourishing, but limited resources forced them to turn away dozens of applicants. They're working on applying for more grants and planning fundraisers.

Right now, they have 30 students in the academy, but hope to expand to 100 in the Philadelphia region.