Each year during Homecoming, Southeast recognizes alumni and friends with the Distinguished Service Award. This year's recipients show the importance and impact of giving back and why these individual passions make our community all the better.
This month, we hear about experiences of Aaron Adeoye, Cantrell Andrews, Kweku Arkorful, and Wyky Jean and how those experiences and the friendship created the Honorable Young Men's Club.
Adeyoe is a professional football player with the Alliance of American Football and has played with the Baltimore Ravens for the last two years.
He is also a cofounder of Honorable Young Men Club (HYMC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a community to empower young men to reach their full potential. The other three founders, also Southeast alumni, are Wyky Jean, Cantrell Andrews and Kweku Arkorful.
Adeoye grew up in Marion, Illinois. His mother is American, and his father is a Nigerian citizen, a household dynamic that he said instilled in him values of perseverance and hard work.
Originally a basketball player for Southeast, Adeoye said his most vivid memory was making the switch to play Redhawk football.
“That’s when my life ended up changing,” he said.
He graduated from Southeast in 2015 with a Bachelor of General Studies, after previously attending Ball State University, John A. Logan College and Western Kentucky University.
Life immediately after Southeast wasn’t a fairytale, Adeoye said, but it helped him become who he is today. He worked for a car dealership for a few years and eventually began to volunteer in the community.
That’s when he met Jean, Andrews and Arkorful, and the group created HYMC. In 2019, while working with the youth and still aspiring to play football, he got the opportunity to play professional football.
“I’m most proud of how I developed into the person I am today,” he said. “ It’s ironic that I’m receiving an award from the University where, under the circumstances, I wasn’t the most ideal student ... but I battled back from adversity and that is what I will always preach. Never let circumstances affect your vision. Tough times will never last; tough people do.”
Adeoye said Southeast had a major impact on his career.
“By going through the experiences I went through there, not only did it make me a better man but it made me a better person overall,” he said. “I had some trials and tough times, but with perseverance and hard work, I came out better than ever.”
Andrews is a real estate investor in Cape Girardeau and one of the cofounders of Honorable Young Men Club (HYMC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a community to empower young men to reach their full potential. The other three founders, also Southeast alumni, are Wyky Jean, Aaron Adeoye and Kweku Arkorful, all of whom volunteered at Central Middle School in Cape Girardeau. In 2016, HYMC was born.
Andrews, of Cape Girardeau, attended Missouri Valley College for two years before transferring to Southeast, where he walked on to the football team. He graduated in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice and a minor in social work with an emphasis in parole and probation.
“I’ve always wanted to help people who were trying to better themselves in life,” Andrews said. “So being able to assist people transitioning out of jail or prison and back into everyday society was the goal.”
After graduation, Andrews moved to Paducah, Kentucky, where he worked with youth at the McCracken Juvenile Detention Center. There, he developed a behaviorally specific safety plan for individuals and families, taught behaviors within the family, as well as household roles and responsibilities, and worked with youth on anger management and communication skills.
“I absolutely loved working with the youth in the center,” Andrews said. “That is where my love was formed to help the youth before they stepped into a juvenile detention center. If they did, it would be a difficult journey to get them back on track.”
After two years in Kentucky, Andrews returned to Southeast Missouri and began working for Jackson, Missouri-based Signature Packaging and Paper in sales. Not long after, HYMC was established.
“When we created this program, I was at a low point in my life and trying to figure out what was next,” Andrews said. “Most people would just focus on themselves during that time, but we decided to all come together to give back to the youth in the community while we were in our time of need.”
Andrews, who grew up on the south side of Cape Girardeau, said it meant a lot to him to be able to give back to his community through HYMC.
“I needed this program growing up, and I had friends who needed this program,” he said. “So to see the program impact my friends’ kids was very rewarding in itself.”
HYMC has served more than 200 members in grades 5 through 10, and helped reduce suspension percentages. The program has shown results in behavior modification and better standardized testing scores for reading and mathematics.
“We created this program with the intention to save the youth,” Andrews said, “but the program ended up saving me."
Arkorful, a 2012 graduate of Southeast, serves as founder and CEO of Be Chosen Academy, founder and CEO of Sankofa Bags, COO of Ark Electrics, and youth mentor and co-founder of Honorable Young Men Club.
He was born in Ghana, Africa, and moved to Chicago at the age of 10. He began playing sports, and after graduating from Rock Valley Junior College in Rockford, Illinois, Arkorful earned a full-ride scholarship to Southeast Missouri State University. He played cornerback for Southeast’s football team and won an OVC Championship with the team in the 2010 season.
“That was a great way to begin my time at Southeast,” he said of the championship. “I remember how vibrant the city was and the amazing support we received from the community.”
“My favorite spot on campus is in between those white lines,” Arkorful said of the field at Houck Stadium. “Playing football at SEMO gave us that advantage as student-athletes to gain respect in the community and leave a legacy on and off the field.”
Arkorful graduated from Southeast with a Bachelor of Science in recreation and park administration and signed a contract to play arena football with the former Florida Tarpons team. However, due to a heart condition, Arkorful was cut from the team.
He returned to Cape Girardeau, where he began working for Southeast’s Department of Recreation Services as the coordinator for Intramural and Sports Club. Returning to Cape Girardeau led Arkorful to one of his first mentors in Cape Girardeau, Danny Rees, founder of Christian Boxing Academy.
“I saw his amazing heart and wanted to do the same to help the youth in South Cape,” he said of Rees.
It wasn’t long before Arkorful and three friends -- and fellow Southeast alumni -- Cantrell Andrews, Aaron Adeoye and Wyky Jean began volunteering at Central Middle School in Cape Girardeau, where they founded the Honorable Young Men Club (HYMC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a community to empower young men to reach their full potential.
“This program has changed many lives and will continue to do so all around the world because we now know how impactful empowering others can be, especially when serving underprivileged youth,” Arkorful said. “We can relate to them, and we want to show them that they are more than demeaning labels or titles that the world has placed on them.”
The mentors exist, he said, to show the young men “the how” and to help them become living testimonies to believe that anything is possible.
“We are grateful to be receiving this amazing award,” Arkorful said. “We would also like to thank this amazing community for allowing us to serve them. However, I would like to share that this is just the beginning."
Jean graduated from Southeast in 2014 with a Bachelor of Science in corporate communication and a minor in entrepreneurship. He is a first-generation American from Pompano Beach, Florida, whose family moved to the United States from Haiti.
He is one of four co-founders of the Honorable Young Men Club (HYMC), a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a community to empower young men to reach their full potential. In addition to his service with HYMC, Jean is a licensed real estate agent and investor. He educates his mentees on the power of financial literacy and the world of real estate.
As a child, Jean overcame a severe case of Scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine that nearly paralyzed him. For months, he said the condition took away his ability to walk. Eventually, after years of physical therapy and hard work, Jean earned an athletic scholarship to play football at Southeast.
“This time of my life instilled so much perseverance and even leadership skills,” Jean said. “The skills and mental toughness are what created the man you see today.”
His most vivid memory from his time at Southeast occurred during an away game at Jacksonville State University, where the team made a historic second-half run to beat the Gamecocks at home.
“Right up there with this memory is walking across that stage as my family celebrated the completion of my degree,” he said.
Jean said he was particularly inspired by Southeast President, Dr. Carlos Vargas, during his time at the University.
“You do not often see a leader with an international background operate at one of the highest leadership positions in the University,” Jean said, noting Vargas’ “phenomenal rapport” with the students. “Dr. Vargas has amazing leadership skills. He is loved by our community. He is down to earth and does not make anyone around him feel small because of his title. You can actually feel his love and kindness just by standing in his presence. I aspire to be a leader like Dr. Vargas.”
Though he may be more than 1,000 miles from biological family, Jean said he’s acquired an extension to that family over the years.
The relationships Jean built at Southeast, he said, are the foundation for his success.
“This area has become my second home, and I have friends all across the world now that are like family,” he said. “There is nothing like having quality people in your corner. It makes the journey that much sweeter.”