Memphian to Meet: Alton Cryer

Posted on May 1, 2014

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IMG_2339By Kendra Lyons

The typical college student might roll out of bed right before class, throw on a t-shirt and shorts and head out the door, papers disheveled and sticking out of their backpack, and eyes tired from lack of sleep. They’ll sit in class and hop on Facebook for the next hour or so until their Professor is done lecturing and then head back home for some relaxation.

Alton Cryer is not your typical college student.

IMG_2332Cryer, a University of Memphis student has positivity and zeal for life that motivates him to empower himself and work towards success, which starts with wearing a suit every single day. When Cryer graduates this August, the 24-year-old will have a lot to show for it. Co-founder of STS Enterprise, a mentoring program for young Memphian African American males, full time student, an employee of multiple jobs at once, and dedicated to putting family before all else, Cryer exemplifies the meaning of hard work and personal accountability in all that he does:

KL: What made you choose the University of Memphis?

AC: I went to Jackson State for 2 years before I went to Memphis. I came to Memphis because first, I have a twin sister and she was diagnosed with Leukemia. I came home to be that backbone for the family. As my mom’s only son I had to be that backbone for the family.

Thankfully, Cryer’s sister is doing well now and is in remission. Cryer explained, “It showed me that there…just because someone says it’s the end, doesn’t mean…that’s not the truth. It’s what you think the truth is. It’s what you speak, it’s what you live. If your mind is set on, I’m gonna fight this thing, I’m gonna fight. If she can fight Leukemia, I can get through college. It put me in this mindset of, I have to be successful. I have to be the best man I can be. I have to do everything I can for my family to show them that we can do this thing together. It put me in grind mode.”

IIMG_2337n 2012, Cryer and co-founded STS Enterprise. Cryer explained that via STS, young men in the program learn everything from how to be a gentleman, to how to apply to college as they enter their junior and senior year of high school. Cryer is a strong believer in making “Setting the Standard” a lifestyle, not just a program.

By working with the participants holistically, and integrating them into excellence from several different angles, Cryer finds that a real bond both between mentors and mentees, but also among the mentees, has happened over the years. Not only does this solidify strong friendships for the mentees, but Cryer believes it helps knock down barriers between neighborhoods, an interesting outlook on the positive consequences that can come from mentoring programs aside from just teaching mentees how to succeed. In this way, STS helps the young men involved in the program, but also indirectly attacks major deeply rooted issues in the community, like divisions between communities.

Cryer contends, “Once you create an environment of positivity, that’s what you produce.”

KL: What are the greatest challenges your mentees face, coming into STS Enterprise?

AC: To be honest, I would say setting themselves apart from everyone else. In their generation, sometimes it seems like everybody talks the same way, everybody dresses the same way, everybody does the same things..so separating themselves from their friends; what the “in crowd” is doing, and figuring out who they are as a character. When I was a kid, I didn’t know who I was. I was everybody else around me. I used to fight, smoke, drink…I wasn’t Alton. I was my surrounding people. I wasn’t myself. They have to find self. They have to find their own self worth. They have to find out, am I worthy of this? Do I have worth? They do have worth. They do matter. They do have a purpose for their life, but they have to find that for themselves. Instead, they look to be rappers, they look to be the people they see on the movie screen. And they fight with that every day.

IMG_2326KL: How big of a role do you think celebrity images in movies and music really play in the lives of impressionable young people?

AC: They don’t have that perspective yet where when they take things in, they can put it in perspective and know music is just music. For example, when I was younger, the music, my mom told me, she said, Alton, don’t listen to music. It has a spirit on it where it’ll shape your mind, it’ll make you think certain things and make you do certain things. I would listen to rap music until it would shape my thoughts about my actions about hanging out at the clubs, doing things that weren’t on the right path, but I thought it was right because maybe they use the word God one time, and they think this whole “YOLO” lifestyle, I’m young, have fun, you can have fun, but most definitely believe that what you do right now determines your future. What you do right now determines how far you will go in life. You can choose your action but you can’t choose the consequence.

AC: You have to have a strong mentality to get out of your environment. But we say, maybe if you can show them something different, they’ll want to be different too. Like me, I’m only 24 years old, so maybe if they see me doing something great, they’ll know they can do something great too. So now, they see they can start from a young age. We want these young man to be the upstanding citizens, be humble, be joyful…don’t be what they say you’re gonna be. Be more positive in your community. Be ambitious. Be a leader. Set yourself apart. Show love. Keep God first, and don’t …try not to find satisfaction from hurt and pain and negativity, because we lash out because we’re hurt. We lash out to fill a void.

KL: Why is it so important to place emphasis on the youth? What is their role in this city?

AC: As young people, we are so…our minds are so innovative. As young people, you have to know that you can make a huge impact in this city. The opportunity is there. There are so many opportunities for young people to shine. A lot of people aren’t doing it, and that in itself is an opportunity. Step in and be that young person to say you know what? I’m going to do something different. There are many opportunities for a young person to stand out in this city. If a nice amount of young people get together and do something great, it’s going to be exposed and it will show that Memphis is a great city for young people to thrive in.

AC: I’m a young person, I want to learn, and seek mentors often. And what older professional wouldn’t want to help you out? Use your youth to get you further. The many opportunities that there are available for people in this city..you have to take advantage of it. A lot of people talk about going to different cities and branching out and doing their own thing, but have you made an impact in your city enough where you can say, I’ve done all I can do and now I should move out? If you haven’t made an impact yet in your own city, how do you know what your potential is? If there’s nothing to do, create it.

Cryer used the word “opportunity” countless times throughout our conversation. He simply exudes positivity and hope for himself and other young people in the city to do good things here. A combination of his personal adversities and drive within himself, enable Cryer to keep “grinding” and working towards success. Cryer’s humility was apparent when he asked me more than once if I had the right guy for an interview- he couldn’t believe that he was being recognized for his work in the community- and as I walked away from the gorgeous University of Memphis library, there was not a doubt in my mind, Alton Cryer was the right  guy for the interview, and more importantly, to really tackle the challenges that come along with shaping the minds of the youth in our city.

Learn more about STS Enterprise on their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/STSEnterprise?ref=br_tf!

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