Leading by Example – Omega Mentoring

Early Monday evening, on the eve of the second anniversary of the 5.14 racially motivated massacre by a white supremacist on Jefferson Avenue, I had every intention to participate in Slow Roll Buffalo’s East Buffalo ride.

And then Cedric R. Holloway called.

Before the question is even asked the answer is always yes when the Executive Director of the Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Sports Pavilion and overseer of the Omega Mentoring program calls.

Monday was the culmination for Omega Mentoring’s young men and women of this semester-long series of educational programs with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning (funded by a grant through the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo and the state-run Friends of Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve in Depew).

A growing beehive

My wife Debbie and I met Cedric and the 50 young students participating in the Omega Mentoring program on the Dodge Street stairs of the Wiley Pavilion, formerly War Memorial Stadium. Before that, it was Civic Stadium, built as a Depression-Era project funded by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1937 at a cost of $3 million. 

Cedric was leading the students on a walk around the block to 212 Best Street, directly across from City Honors High School. Nestled behind bushes along Best is the amazing Pelion Outdoor Classroom, which operates under the umbrella of Grassroots Gardens. It’s a small urban farm maintained by Caesandra Seawell and a host of volunteers, including the Omega Mentoring students. 

Some of the Omega Mentoring students listening to students read their poems or stories from their new book, A Healthy Place.

On Monday, Cedric brought the students there to hear an update on the garden, which includes several beehives.  Officials from Just Buffalo Writing Center were there to present the students with copies of their book, A Healthy PlaceWriting from Climate Connections for Youth on Buffalo’s East Side.

“Look at this, you are published!” Holloway shouted as the children looked for their poems and stories in the 36-page book. “You can get copies and bring home to show your parents and grandparents that your writings has been published.”

Working with Just Buffalo Writing Center was just one of the field trips the students enjoyed during the semester. Cedric’s favorite was seeing the looks on the kids’ faces when they boarded and road the Maid of the Mist boat to the edge of Niagara Falls.

Once they returned to the second floor conference in the Wiley Pavilion, and after enjoying some pizza and wings, the students sat and listened to a review of the semester from Bonnie Lawrence, deputy commissioner of Environment and Planning for Erie County. She then presented them with personalized Certificates of Appreciation signed by County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz for their participation in the Youth Climate Connection Project.

Mary Ronan, an environmental educator for DEC, worked with Lawrence on creating the after-school program and arranging the many field trips the students took.

“Omega Mentoring is an incredible program,” Ronan said. “The level of support Cedric receives from parents and volunteers is not seen that often but more than that, the level of respect of these students towards each other and towards us is a great testimony to the lessons taught by Cedric. They are all so professional and it is impressive. I can speak from experience because we do many after school programs.”

From left, Mary Ronan, NYS DEC, student Mi’Lan Jones, Cedric Holloway, Alaysia Jones-Haywood, Bonnie Lawrence, Erie County Dept. of Environment & Planning and Ky’Lynn Pope

Lawrence, in her second year of working with Omega Mentoring students, added: “Cedric and this program is so inspiring. I have never seen anything like this, and it is so refreshing to work with them. We had Earth Day here on April 22 in which his students created, promoted, and ran what was a huge success. This room was full.

“Everyday, Cedric is making a huge difference in the lives of these children,” she said.

Lawrence was impressed but not surprised at the end of the presentation of how the students were writing answers to questions the officials posed which will help them create next year’s program.

“That shows their commitment to learning and for the seniors to do it, shows how they want to see the program improved for the students following them,” Lawrence added.

Omega Mentoring is an integral component of the Phi Omega Foundation, an aside of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. Phi Omega chapter. Holloway has been a loyal member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity since 1999, the year Omega Mentoring was founded, and has been in existence under his judicious leadership ever since. The young people in this program thrive under the guidance and dedication of committed men and women like Holloway and the other committed staff members, who have truly made a difference in literally hundreds of lives of young people in East Buffalo.

The Omega Mentoring Program’s small but powerful staff meets faithfully with the young mentees every Monday at the Wiley Pavilion, where they have created small businesses such as a silk-screening operation.

The Dodge Street entrance to Johnnie B. Wiley Amateur Sports Pavilion

The amateur sports pavilion was named for Cedric’s father, the late Johnnie B. Wiley. The Omega Mentoring group focuses on the same self-love, self-knowledge, self-development, and spiritual development Cedric’s father showed neighborhood youth many years ago. His dad would be proud of the generation of thoughtful, caring, and committed leaders his son is creating.

Omega Mentoring was created when Holloway, a retired decorated Buffalo Police Detective Sergeant, and head of its SWAT team, became sick of seeing so many young neighborhood kids either getting killed or arrested because of drugs or gangs. The mentoring program took them off the streets and through his tough love and discipline he learned in the police force, he quickly earned the student’s respect and admiration.

Holloway is most proud of the high 90 percent graduation rate among his students, and he loves the annual field trips to Black universities where many of his alumni have graduated from.

One of the many lessons learned during the semester

“We drive home the importance of obtaining a good education,” Holloway explained. “They know everything in this program begins with education because you cannot succeed in life without one. We have also been fortunate through donations and grants to open doors to areas in our community and country these kids had never seen before.”

Cedric and his wife Lisa are the parents of Jimmie Adams and Morgan Holloway and to hear Cedric speak of his children, shows he is a man who understands the significance of fatherhood.

Cedric’s courage in the face of danger along with his tenacious disposition and love of life helped him battle and survive a diagnosis of lymphoma. While battling cancer he never missed work, never stopped mentoring, never stopped parenting, never stopped working out, and he never stopped believing he was going to live.

Cedric Holloway next to his favorite flower, the Lilac Bush

Holloway has received numerous awards over the years, while maintaining his humble exposure. They include the Stop the Violence Award, the Butler Award for Heroism by the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association, the City of Buffalo Change Maker Award, the Men Moving Forward “”He-Roes” award, the Black Achievers Award and a host of others, such as City of Buffalo Common Council’s Community Service Award, former New York State Assemblyman Arthur O. Eve’s Community Service Award, former New York State Congressman Jack Quinn’s Community Service Award, Erie County Legislator Crystal Peoples-Stokes Community Service Award, the Afro-American Police Association’s Law Enforcement Officer of the Year, the Afro- American Police Association Trailblazer’s Award, the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. Phi Epsilon Chapter’s Citizen of the Year, and Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. Phi Omega Chapter’s Outstanding Service Award.

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Lead image: Caesandra Seawell, right, of Pelion Outdoor Classroom on Best Street, explains the beehives that have been created this past week.

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