Building relationships, finding identity and cultivating purpose—these core attributes of Berea College’s Black Male Leadership Initiative (BMLI) changed the course of Jordan (Tré) Sims’ life. The 2015 graduate came to Berea from a loving, supportive family, but one where he split time between two defined households, unsure of where he fit as a biracial child with Black and white siblings and parents and settled in a central Kentucky high school with a less than 1 percent population of students of color.

In February of his senior year, his high school choir teacher, a Berea College alumna, knowing he would be a first-generation college student and knowing his love for the arts, music and learning, recommended he check out Berea as an option for school. That same month, Sims attended the Carter G. Woodson Diversity weekend at the College.

“It was literally my first time being down in Berea and seeing campus,” Sims said. “As soon as I got there, I was just so infatuated with the environment of it—the whole motto, the system that’s in place to help students succeed. And it was something that just popped, and I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, this is where I need to go.’”

That weekend, Sims met several young men he immediately bonded with, and their connection lasted through the end of the school year and summer as they encouraged one another to stay motivated and get accepted into and attend Berea.

portrait of Jordan Sims laughing as he sits in the Carter G. Woodson library
Jordan (Tré) Sims ’15 discovered a diverse, empathetic and encouraging community when he came to Berea College. His involvement with strong Black leaders in meetings in this library in the Carter G. Woodson Center for Interracial Education, helped him learn to be secure in his identity and understand the importance of mentorship to young men. Fueled by his life-changing experiences, he started a group to mentor and encourage young men in the high school where he now works as a college and career coach. Photo by Crystal Wylie ’05

Once at Berea, that connection strengthened with his involvement in the Black Music Ensemble (BME) and the BMLI. Through mentors like Keith and Dr. Kathy Bullock, Dr. Dwayne Mack and Professor Andrew Baskin, Sims began navigating the identity crisis he felt through his childhood and found true understanding, affirmation and belonging.

“Professor Baskin is one of my favorite people at Berea,” Sims recalled. “The Bullock family and Dr. Mack, people like that, were people who extended their hand out to me, and were like, ‘We’re here to help. We can have these conversations, and if you need anything come to us—like anything, literally.’ And it was just that feeling of belonging. Knowing they would be there for me was something I never thought I would get at that level.

“When I talk to that friend group, looking back at the challenges, it’s what shaped us into who we are now,” Sims continued. “Which is kind of why I started the BROTHERS program at Lafayette because of what Black Male Leadership Initiative did for me and my friends.”

Having served as the college and career coach at Lafayette High School in Lexington, Ky., since 2020, Sims created the BROTHERS program last school year. The organization is dedicated to fostering a safe and inclusive environment through mentorship to generate a sense of belonging and genuine brotherhood. That brotherhood will provide space for productive, healthy conversations conducive to social and emotional development.

“Starting this group was what you could call a “see a need, fill a need” instinct,” Sims said. “The lack of representation and safe space for students of color was something that drove me to create this organization. I felt it my responsibility and my passion to create a group in which students could feel heard and supported.”

At its initiation, the group of approximately 80 high school males of various races and ethnicities gathered weekly to discuss important, personal and sometimes difficult topics. With discussion topics ranging from religion to relationships, sex ed, drug and alcohol usage and personal and family issues, Sims uses this group meeting as a time to engage these young men and help them find a safe place to explore thorny issues in their school and lives.

“I am very real with the students because I feel like if you don’t have these conversations with them, then they’re kind of thrown out into the world to just figure it out,” Sims said.

In addition, Sims brings in mentor figures from the outside to talk to the group while also fostering a sense of mentorship within the group itself, encouraging junior and senior members to help first-year and sophomore members with challenges they face, whether it be difficult classwork or a situation they experienced early in their high school careers.

“I tell them, ‘You may not even think you’re a leader, but somebody’s looking up to you and what you do, because you’re going be a professional or experienced in something that somebody else is not,’” Sims said about working with his council of select student leaders. “So, letting them know that they’ve always got people looking at them and looking to see how they can learn from them—that is something I’m really happy I can expose them to.”

Having found harmony, acceptance and belonging in his friends and mentors at Berea College, Sims feels compelled to craft that same environment for young men at the high-school level so they can approach their college or career path with confidence, self-understanding and a desire to serve others in whatever endeavors they pursue.

“I really enjoy what I do,” Sims said. “And Berea is a huge part of why I do what I do. The African and African American Studies program, the Music department and just the whole campus helped me figure out that this was my passion. This was one of my callings, and it’s awesome.”


Abbie Darst '03 is an article writing, husband loving, kid raising, cheer coaching, God serving, busy woman. Whether it's been in sports, law enforcement or higher education, Abbie has dedicated her career to telling stories that speak of mission, passion and the best parts of human experience. She's been telling Berea's amazing stories since 2017.

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