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Harlem Children’s Zone Track Team Builds Culture of Mentorship

Three young women in track outfits who are coaches on the HCZ Armory Track Team.

Fanta Sanogo was missing home and thinking about transferring to a college closer to Harlem. Like other times when she needed advice, she called on Syreeta “Coach B” Miller, head coach at the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) Track Team. 

Fanta hadn’t spoken to Coach B since she left for college. But the mentor-mentee bond they forged when Fanta was on the Track Team stayed strong. After all, Coach B had helped Fanta through some of the most difficult challenges – and celebrated her during her biggest accomplishments. 

After speaking to Coach B, Fanta decided to transfer to Essex College in Newark, N.J. Now, she is not only succeeding in college, but she’s also giving back to her community – serving as a mentor to the next generation of the team’s scholar-athletes.

“Coach B really helped me when I was struggling,” says Fanta, who is now a coach on the Track Team, which practices at the HCZ Armory. “Now I have my chance to be back with my community, to help these scholar-athletes the same way Coach B helped me.”

The relationship between Fanta and Coach B is a testament to how HCZ is building a culture of mentorship. Like a relay race, coaches, educators, and administrators serve as mentors, before passing the baton to their mentees who then become mentors themselves. We believe this lineage of mentorship is critical to the success of our scholars and organization.

“Our team motto is rooted in mentorship: ‘The power of our mentor/mentee vibe is unmatched,’” Coach B says. “I want our athletes to be successful in everything they do, on and off the track.”

Fueled by a strong mentorship lineage

Like many schools, programs, and departments, the Harlem Children’s Zone Track Team team is fueled by a strong mentorship lineage. Generation after generation, talented scholar-athletes benefit from the mentorship of coaches and elder team members. Then, inspired by the impact of their mentors, they become mentors themselves. This empowers scholars to share wisdom, strengthen their athletic and academic abilities, and ultimately, impact their community. In fact, two current HCZ Track coaches are alumni of the Track Team and Harlem Children’s Zone Promise Academy.

One of them, Assistant Track Coach Tiguida Toure, was also mentored by Coach B. As with Fanta, Coach B helped Tiguida build her confidence and realize her potential. Emboldened by her experience on the Track Team, Tiguida earned a track scholarship at the University of Albany, where she also majored in Math. 

“Coach B really inspired me and helped me see something in myself that I didn’t,” Tiguida says. “She has helped me become the woman I am today.”

Making an impact on and off the field

Tiguida is now making the same impact as Coach B. In her role, Tiguida helps her scholars succeed on and off the field – coaching track in the afternoon and tutoring her scholar-athletes in math in the evening. She creates an environment where well-rounded scholar-athletes are celebrated and nurtured. 

“It’s not only about winning trophies,” she says. “This is also about earning diplomas, going to college, and building successful careers.”

Current scholar-athlete and Harlem Children’s Zone Track Team captain Sayon Keita has the guidance of three mentors in Coach B, Tiguida, and Fanta. Leveraging this support, along with her athletic talent, Sayon became the team MVP this season.

“I don’t have just one mentor on the team; I look up to a lot of the junior coaches, like Fanta,” Sayon says. “She’s been in my position and watching what she’s doing inspires me because that’s something I want to do.”

Nurturing the next generation of mentors

Winning track meets takes hard work, practice, and consistency. That winning culture wouldn’t be possible without a culture of mentorship. During track team practices, the sounds of cheering and laughter, sneakers hitting the floor, and bouncing music fill the cavernous HCZ Armory space. Coach B, Coach Tiguida, and Coach Fanta nurture the community that helped them grow into the leaders – and mentors – they are today. In the process, they’re nurturing the next generation of mentors.

“I see myself in the kids that are on the team now and I relate to them,” Fanta says. “They can come to me for advice because I’ve been through what they are going through now.”

A girl is practicing gymnastics. She is in a mid-air split on a trampoline.

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The HCZ Armory

The Armory is a centerpiece of our Healthy Harlem initiative, helping us combat the epidemic of childhood obesity by serving the community at scale.