Twelve years ago, Matt Hanna discovered the Marc Kelly Smith poem “Pull the Next One Up,” and it has since become the credo of his nonprofit organization, Next One Up. Inspired by the poem’s message of helping others find personal success, the program invests in Baltimore City student athletes by providing long-term mentoring on the field and in the classroom. “For us and our kids, it’s about generational change,” Hanna says.
Hanna founded Next One Up while coaching lacrosse and teaching history at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, where he had a front-row seat to his students’ lack of extracurricular education. In 2009, he started a scholarship program to send four lacrosse players to summer camp, and four years later, with help from a fellowship from the Open Society Institute, the initiative included camps, weekend pick-up games, and mentoring.
Today, thanks to partnerships with the Ravens and T. Rowe Price, among others, the nonprofit provides its roster of 120 male students with resources such as SAT test prep and guidance on finding the right high school or college to ensure that they succeed academically, athletically, and socially. The initiative is geared toward middle and high school-aged students who face potential deterrents from reaching their goals, such as unstable housing or incarcerated family members. The results speak for themselves—100 percent of participants have graduated high school and have been accepted to two or four-year colleges. “We have students who have major challenges to weather,” Hanna says. “We fill in the cracks and the gaps.”
Recruiting students at an early age has also created a growing alumni base. Past participants such as Litchfield Ajavon, who is a freshman football player at the University of Notre Dame, can come back and talk about their experiences to current students. Plus, the students can look to Winfield Hopkins V, a Next One Up graduate who is now the Associate Program Director. “They can see how I came up,” Hopkins says. “I try to sit down with the kids and offer to talk with them.”
As Next One Up approaches its double-digit anniversary party on October 24 at The Accelerator Space, Hanna says he’s starting to become nostalgic, especially thinking about how the program’s legacy as a support system continues to grow stronger with each class of young men. “I’ve taken a step back to celebrate the success of these guys and the overall growth of the program,” Hanna says. “For us, the future is focused on continued success and developing great stories and young men in the city.”