What does it mean to SWAG?

By Jennifer Speight

Goshen College, and the Mennonite world at large, have long been known for their acronyms: MMA, MDS and MCC are just a few. Now, we bring you a new one: SWAG, which stands for Serving With All Gifts.

Odelet Nance, the director of the Multicultural Affairs Office, and Jeremy Pope, a senior sports management major, planted the seeds for this new group in the summer of 2009, with the goal of uplifting and encouraging men of color.

Nance and Pope addressed a lack of positive support and purposeful fellowship among the men of color around GC and contacted Theo Williams, a professor of English at Bethel College, to help them structure this group and get it moving.

The group began in 2010 with the name Men of Color with the purpose of helping each other. After some time, however, Williams was bothered by the name Men of Color, deciding that they needed to be more than a color and that they needed a purpose beyond uplifting each other. The group came up with SWAG, with the purpose of using their gifts to change the surrounding area.

Pope, now the leader of SWAG, said that these men have united under a common desire “to reach out to people on campus and around campus to improve situations” as well as “to support each other in the group, socially and academically, and in all we do.”

Each SWAG member has a pen pal in late elementary or early middle school who has similar interests to a SWAGer. The mentors correspond with these disadvantaged youth to build relationships.

The SWAG club’s members are about as diverse as its membership. What originally started as a group for men of color only, has become something less racially focused and more focused on the definition of manhood in light of a commitment to serve.

SWAG invites men of all races to come and join their commitment to serve the campus and the community with their gifts. Matthew Parker IV, a sophomore youth ministry major, said he was attracted to the opportunity SWAG offers to “help change lives using [your] gifts and the chance to be responsible and become a role model.”

Nate Manning, a junior interdisciplinary major, said, “SWAG lets us reach out to kids who don’t have ideal home lives, who have gotten into some sort of trouble that could seriously hurt their future. We try to be there for them. To make a difference.”

Each piece of correspondence from the boys has an educational question and the mentees, all of whom are students in Elkhart Community Schools, must answer the question and respond. The goal is to eventually meet up with these kids and spend some quality time playing sports, chatting, and just being together.

The group holds weekly or biweekly meetings in which they hold each other accountable, lift each other up, and discuss the future of their group. Their previous work on and off campus includes the pen pal partnership with Elkhart Community Schools, a Hope for Haiti benefit concert last year, and contributing to the campus community in each of their various roles as students, athletes, role models, and friends.

When asked what he’d like people to really know about SWAG, Pope said, “Just that we’re here, we’re active, and we’re trying to make a difference. You can too.”

SWAG is a great way to unite the men on campus and encourage them to put these talents to use. This isn’t Soulja Boy’s “Swag,” but one might say that they like this version even better.

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