Molding kings of classrooms
Jason Mims runs "The MIMS Institute," where he coaches black students in high school toward scholarships for college.
By RICK GERSHMAN
Published October 20, 2006
This is Jason Mims' office.
It's where he ministers to black teenagers with great, though often untapped, academic potential.
It's where he throws parties for students who worked hard to earn scholarships. It's where dreams are inspired, cultivated and celebrated.
And it's where you can get a tasty eggs Benedict for a fair price.
It's the Village Inn at N Dale Mabry Highway, a few blocks north of W Kennedy Boulevard. Mims is just a customer, but he often sets up shop here.
As Mims drinks sweet tea, he points to specific booths around the restaurant. In them, he has helped Hillsborough County minority students achieve goals many never considered pursuing.
Mims, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, is persuasive. And he's passionate. And he's not getting paid for any of his efforts.
"She doesn't like me doing this," Mims says of his wife, April, only part joking. "Because it's free."
For an early dinner this Monday afternoon, Mims wears a white polo shirt with a logo on the chest for "The MIMS Institute."
It's not just his name, but an acronym: "Motivate Individual Minority Students to prepare for and apply to America's top national universities."
Mims, who lives in Sun Bay South, focuses his attention on supporting black male teenagers who live in urban neighborhoods and have solid reading skills. He wants them to take six or more advanced placement classes in high school.
He occasionally works with white and female students. He's proud of daughter Sierra, who attends the University of Tampa. But Mims focuses on young black men because he feels the need is greatest there.
Mims points to a 2005 senior scholarship study of Hillsborough County schools. White males were offered more than $4.6-million in academic scholarships and about $700,000 in athletic scholarships.
Black males were offered slightly more than $1-million in athletic scholarships and less than $850,000 in academic scholarships.
In 2001, shortly after his son Jason Jr. was accepted at New York University, Mims looked up how many black male students were taking honors classes in Hillsborough County high schools.
Of about 15,000 freshmen in the county, only 199 - less than 2 percent - were black male students taking honors English classes.
In January 2002, Mims set out to talk to the boys, eventually meeting with 159 of them at 16 schools.
"If we could get scholarship money for each of those 159 kids - if they each got $15,000 a year for four years - that's more than $9.5-million out there," Mims says.
In September 2002, the Hillsborough County Commission awarded Mims that year's Favorite Sons & Daughters award for his efforts.
The favored son had to make a special trip to accept the honor: The Army had called him back to active duty. At 49, he was stationed for a year in Kuwait.
But the award prompted Mims to redouble his efforts when he returned to Tampa. When he was promoted five times in the military, he explains, "that's not for what you've done, but what they expect you to do. This award is for what they expect from me. So I thought, now I have to go out and do that."
Mims doesn't know how many of those original 159 freshmen went on to receive academic scholarships when they graduated in 2005. But he says several earned scholarships to attend such schools as Brown University, Morehouse College and the University of Florida.
At 53, Mims looks young for his years, with only a thin line of gray stretching along his hairline and along his temples.
He's lean and mean, he drives a red Mustang, and around the eyes, he looks a bit like Jamie Foxx. It's not hard to see why kids respond to his motivation.
He has a nickname for the young black men he works with: "Leroys." Why? Because Mims studied French at the University of Notre Dame, where he graduated in 1975. So it's a twist on le roi, which is French for "the king."
"If we can get some of our young people in some of these schools, they can be kings," he says. "There's no telling what they'll become."
As proof, he pulls out a book listing black Notre Dame alumni. Under 1975, he points to his name. He says: "Read down from there and see if you recognize any names."
Five entries below Mims, there's a distinctive name:
"I'm telling you, you get these kids to these great schools," Mims says, "and you never know what they'll become."
Rick Gershman can be reached at email@example.com or 226-3431.
AT A GLANCE
Home: Sun Bay South.
Family: Wife, April; son Jason Jr., 23; and daughter Sierra, 19.
Past leadership: U.S. Army lieutenant colonel, retired. He moved to Tampa when he was transferred to Central Command at MacDill Air Force Base.
Present leadership: Helping high school students, primarily young black men, pursue scholarship opportunities at top national universities.
His license plate: "SERVANT."