Passing on the baton of knowledge, leadership, and opportunity is how the Memphis-based nonprofit organization, Peer Power, pushes high school students to reach for more.

Join them for their largest annual fundraiser in its seventh consecutive year — Peer Power Big River Crossing (BRX) — on Saturday, November 4, at Martyr’s Park. The family-friendly race offers something for everyone, with a half marathon, 10k, and 1-mile fun run/walk options starting at 8:30 a.m.

Peer Power’s Program Director, Sylvia Barnes, recalls what initially drew her to work for the nonprofit organization.

“I thought that it aligned well with my desire to be a college professor,” citing the mentorship she received from a former professor turned advisor in her sophomore year. “It was truly pivotal and inspirational.”

As one of the organization’s program directors, a former collegiate basketball athlete, and a current graduate student studying 19th Century African American Literature at the University of Memphis, Sylvia is all about pursuing excellence for herself and those around her. 

“I love that Peer Power is centered towards the community that our schools are in. We are able to be a pivotal piece in our students’ lives.”

Peer Power hires high-performing college students, Success Coaches, to work within their 12 high schools’ partnerships, some of which are in lower-income neighborhoods.

The Success Coaches collaborate with school teachers whose classes fall under Tennessee’s end-of-course testable subjects (Algebra 1 & 2, Geometry, and English 1 & 2), serving as teacher-student liaisons. Success Coaches will meet one-on-one with students in designated school areas if additional support is needed beyond the classroom.

In addition, Peer Power offers free ACT preparation courses and FAFSA events for their communities to help increase high school graduations and college acceptances while creating a career-reading pipeline that fosters student leadership qualities.

“It is through these authentic interactions that we can inspire kids to think outside of the limits and to expose them to other opportunities.”

Sylvia also hopes to motivate students in other areas of wellness. Having played high school and collegiate basketball, her exercise regimen took a turn when she stepped away from the court.

“I have always been active, but after college, I had to adjust how I saw fitness and health.”

Sylvia now enjoys circuit training and weightlifting group exercise classes at the University of Memphis’ Recreation Center, which she pairs with low-impact cardio activities, cycling, and incline treadmill walking.

“Through my health and fitness journey, I found myself trying to compare my current version of myself to a younger version, which was not healthy. I had to learn to give myself grace and take smaller steps to help achieve my goals.”

Between her university career aspirations and involvement with Peer Power, Sylvia hopes to “inspire kids by being a role model for them.”

Register for November’s Big River Crossing at:

IG: @peerpower901 

By Shlomit Ovadia

Photo by Tindall Stephens