By Donna Lewis Johnson
Special to the AFRO

Tyriek Mack, 23, has been planning for success ever since he was 16 going to bed hungry at night. 

“Well, my father was incarcerated, so I grew up with a single mom,” Mack said.

The odds shifted in Mack’s favor when a close friend introduced him to Life Pieces to Masterpieces, a local nonprofit that teaches young African-American males to develop positive self-identities and life skills.

Tyriek Mack, 23, is giving back to the exact same organization that changed his own life and trajectory: Life Pieces to Masterpieces. (Courtesy Photo, DaQuan Ashton)

In his senior year at D.C.’s School Without Walls High School, Mack participated in Life Pieces’ Saturday Academy, a weekly program that prepares high schoolers to succeed in college and serve as community change-makers. 

“At Saturday Academy, I was given the confidence, the self-esteem, that understanding of the beauty of my Blackness,” Mack recalled.

In 2013, Mack went on to the University of Wisconsin at Madison on a full scholarship and stayed loyal to his commitment and training to be a force for good. 

“Being in an environment like a predominantly White institution, it’s really important to have a really strong self-identity so that you’re able to thrive and be successful,” Mack reflected. “I was a social activist on campus, actually led numerous marches, and I advocated for students all throughout the state of Wisconsin.”

Mack, who focused on economics and educational policy at UW-Madison, studied abroad at the University of Cape Town in South Africa in the fall of 2017, combining his passion to see and change the world through social-justice efforts. 

“When I was in Cape Town, I was there at a very tumultuous time for students, during #FeesMustFall,” Mack explained. “The movement was addressing the lingering consequences of apartheid on educational policy. By being a participant, I was able to connect the struggles that Black people throughout the entire diaspora face.”

Mack is an example of the difference Life Pieces has made since its founding in 1996. 

“Brother Tyriek has met challenges and is mindful of his responsibility to help other Black and Brown boys understand their power to change their narratives,” said Mary Brown, a founder of the nonprofit who now volunteers as chief executive officer.

In 2019, a full 100 percent of Life Pieces’ high school seniors graduated on time. More than half enrolled at a university, several with full scholarships.

Mack recently returned to Life Pieces to coordinate the Saturday Academy- the very program that changed his life. 

“The academy taught me that my thoughts, words and actions determine my destiny. My main goal through Saturday Academy is to give our young brothers the tools to achieve success in postsecondary education and also just in life in general,” Mack said. “I think that happens through teaching them about financial literacy, about healthy relationships, about positive masculinity, leadership and discipline.” 

Mack will be heading to law school in the fall- walking into his future one mindful step at a time.