The Fam Squad
Les LeBron McBride, De'onte Brown and Mandel Merceron Montilus
Atlanta, Georgia (Senate District 36)
When Les McBride, De'onte Brown and Mandel Montilus started the IDEAL program at GSU, they knew immediately they felt blessed not only to be in school, but most especially to have found each other. IDEAL, Inclusive Digital Expression and Literacy, is a new inclusive two-year program at Georgia State that accepted their first students in Fall 2016. Students enroll in or audit courses offered by GSU colleges and academic departments; complete work-study and internship experiences related to media, communications and/or the arts; and participate in a variety of extracurricular activities on campus.
The young men of “The Fam Squad” are three of the five students currently enrolled in IDEAL. Spenser Norris, a trained special education teacher and clinical rehab counselor, is the University Inclusion Coordinator. She says they hope to grow the program to 10 students over the next few years, as well as establish a dual-enrollment program with DeKalb County. Much like other college inclusion programs, they rely on the support of peer mentors who have similar interests and academic goals as the program participants. Peer mentors are recruited from the Honors College and other parts of the university and volunteer five to 10 hours a week to assist with going to class, study skills and socialization. (Story continues below after slideshow.)
Aspiring filmmaker De’onte, 22, has an intellectual disability and developmental delay. He remembers the first time he fell in love with films. He was watching something one day and just started wondering about how much time it had taken them to make all the parts of it. It made him curious about the process. His favorite scary movie is Happy Death Day. “These types of movies just make me feel more alive,” he says. De’onte has a twin brother who is in the army, currently serving in Poland. They video chat weekly, but he really misses him because it’s been more than a year since they’ve seen each other in person. For his final project, De’onte wants to get his peer mentors, Phil and Jade, to help him make a documentary about the IDEAL program.
Mandel, a game designer, is a 23-year-old man with Autism Spectrum Disorder and speech-and-language disorder. Mandel’s peer mentors, Teymbi and Kat, help him stay focused on his game designs. His original inspiration for gaming was Pokémon. He shows us a version of Pokéball he’s doodled on his hand. You can find some games he’s working on at an experimental website called Twinery.org. He says that the thing he likes most about games is being the champion.
Les, a music producer,is 19. He has a mild intellectual disability and specific learning disorder. Growing up with the music of T.I., Li’l Wayne and other Atlanta-based hip-hop artists, his favorite song is “I’m Still Here” by T.I. He thinks that’s a great motivational message to follow. No matter what circumstances you come from or what’s happened to you, you’ve got to keep doing your work and keep going. Les has lost important people in his life like his grandparents, and he’s an only child. Sometimes he’s felt isolated, but he feels it’s important to stay positive. He wants to put out work through his music that encourages people to stop violence.
Another IDEAL student has stated many times that, "Without IDEAL, he would be sitting at home,being bored and feeling like [I am] missing out.” Often young adults with intellectual disabilities find themselves isolated when they do not belong to a community of peers, often feeling misunderstood or eventually feeling like it is not worth the effort to make friends or try new things. Like many young people who may feel isolated, this phenomenon can lead to depression, anxiety or people existing in unhealthy relationship with others to fulfill a need for belonging.
As a part of their program, they’ve had an opportunity to participate in advocacy, going down tothe Capitol to speak about the IDEAL program. If we brought an elected official in to be a part of the conversation we were having, they would want them toknow how excellent their program is so they could have more students “join the college life, to see what all the fuss is about!”
Writer: Shannon Turner, Photographer: Lynsey Weatherspoon