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College of Education

Education graduate helping ‘Young Brothers’ succeed in life

Justus Cox, director of Young Brothers Academy in Greenville, is dedicated to helping young men reach their fullest potential. His many titles include husband, father, educator, motivational speaker and mentor. Cox’s commitment to positively impacting young lives was recognized most recently when Greenville Business Magazine selected him as one of the Best & Brightest 35 and Under for 2023.

How did you become interested in education? 

My mother was an educator. Her mother was an educator, my grandmother and my sister are educators as well. I was definitely trying to run from it. One of my mentors, Mark Joseph, who was one of the first graduates from the Call Me MISTER program, became the site coordinator at Anderson University, which is a full circle moment. That's how I got involved with MISTER—just seeing him go to college and do the MISTER program, the notoriety and the recognition he received, but also understanding the work that he was doing was needed and was impactful—I wanted to be a part of it.

How did you find AU?

Honestly, Anderson University was the last school I applied to. I'm originally from Greenville, South Carolina, and I didn't know anything about Anderson University, but I went on tour, fell in love with the campus and fell in love with the staff. I felt like Anderson would be the best place for me to be. I also said I was going to go to the first school that accepted me and, and so Anderson was the quickest to get back to me, even though it was the last school I applied to, so I felt like that was a sign as well. 

What are some favorite college memories?

Being around my Call Me MISTER brothers was a highlight of my time there. I was able to spend a lot of time with President Whitaker, just being able to shadow and to know what an amazing man he is. Also his wife—the amazing cookies that she bakes. Definitely intramurals as well—I got a couple of basketball and flag football championships under my belt. I definitely miss those times at Anderson.

How did Young Brothers Academy start?

We started the Young Brothers Academy in 2018. It was centered around the whole idea of being who we needed when we were younger. The space I was in, I wasn't necessarily where I wanted to be career wise, but I felt like it would be a disservice not to give back and to be that person that people were for me when I was younger. So that was kind of the birth of Young Brothers Academy.

It really took off after I went to Ghana, West Africa, for the Fulbright-Hays Scholarship for 30 days. When I got back, it was just a different type of empowerment. I wanted to share that same type of energy with the young men we lead.

Tell me about your trip to Ghana. 

I went in 2018 and I'm still processing it today. We were all studying the connection between the Ghanaian educational system and here in America, kind of comparing it to and seeing what we can learn from, pulling in the best out of each—so that was the purpose of the trip. But it definitely was a soul searching, finding myself kind of opportunity for me. We got to visit the different slave dungeons that a lot of our ancestors came through and to visit those, to feel the energy, but also to see the fight in our people… Even the educational system, how they had probably 50 kids to a class, and it's kind of unheard of here. Some of the classes I visited, it’s just like ‘teach me something, teach me something.’ They just wanted to learn. I’m trying to instill that same internal, intrinsic motivation for our scholars here.

How did Young Brothers Academy get started?

It’s a nonprofit that was started as a 501(c)3 organization in 2018. It has always been in my heart to start a mentor program like Young Brothers Academy. I ran into one of my friends, Braylon Jones, at a get together and he was like, ‘you know, we need to do something for the youth.’ And that's all I needed to hear because it was kind of like the match that needed to be lit. So we got together with another friend, Andre Sullivan at the time, and we met at a time all we had was an idea and a logo. And by the grace of God, going into year six, it's been amazing to see the growth of the young men in the program but also the growth within ourselves. 

How many young men do you have in Young Brothers Academy?

Right now we have 41 young men between middle and high school. 

How does someone come to Young Brothers Academy? 

It has really been through word of mouth and currently for any young man who wants to be different, change and become better. We look at Young Brothers Academy as a well where you get water from. If you're open and willing, we have a lot of people to come in and speak life into young men, providing them with the three E’s—Education, Empowerment and Exposure—those are our three pillars. And so, if you're in a room and you're present, there are a ton of opportunities you can be exposed to. Come to the well with a bucket to bring something back—that's what we harp on a lot. 

And, like I say, three E's really felt like education, not just in the classroom, but what life can teach you. That empowerment piece—I think we all want to be heard, providing that platform to give young men a voice, but also the exposure, understanding and being connected to things bigger than yourselves. And so word of mouth on social media has been our biggest tool to get young men in. 

Let's unpack a little bit of what you do at Young Brothers Academy.

We meet every second and fourth Saturday and these consist of workshops, speakers and things like that. We have our scholars think through what it really means to be a man. A lot of times growing up we think it’s being macho—you know—boys aren't supposed to cry. But that neglects the emotional needs of young men. We're in a position to help them break down and digest a lot—that empowerment piece. Middle school, high school—that's a tough age range and that's the reason why we chose it. We go on trips, different college tours and different volunteer opportunities, but also have people come in from different career fields and expose them to different opportunities.

You went through Call Me MISTER while you were a student at AU. How did that influence you? 

One hundred percent. The same blood as Call Me MISTER... The change in my life definitely runs through Young Brothers Academy, from the mentorship role, but also accountability. The biggest lesson I learned from Call Me MISTER is that nothing good comes without work, and so being able to instill those same principles into our young men and encouraging them to be in a position to give back. 

When balancing your professional life pouring into young people with family life, is there a particular wisdom that helps you get through that?

Having a supportive spouse. My wife—not only does she pour into me spiritually, physically and emotionally, but she allows me to operate in my gift. And sometimes it does mean being away from home. But I try my best to make sure I'm present when I am home. And when I'm around her and I'm around my young girls, I guess the biggest thing—shout out to her for being understanding, but also being a prayer partner. 

At the end of the day, what gives you a feeling of accomplishment?

My joys are definitely seeing scholars think before they react. I think adults struggle with that as well. But to see scholars’ growth, being able to regulate and control their emotions, being able to think before they react, taking that breath… Those are wins for me. We’re not expecting perfection from scholars, but we want them to be in the best position possible to make the best decision possible within the moments that they're in.

That's my big thing we talk about within Young Brother's Academy—the urgency of the moment and how it's important to be able to think in moments of crisis, but also moments of opportunity. Those are the biggest enjoys for me, seeing a young eighth grader at Young Brothers Academy, now seeing him as a senior—the growth and change within that young man but also here at Legacy, the certain scholars that we work with, come in one way but to get them thinking differently, I think those are definitely my joys. My challenges are when there’s no time in the day… We talk about balance between home and work. At Young Brothers Academy it gets heavy sometimes. So being able to withstand and stay prayed up and have people around you that can believe in you and be that source of truth. Those are the challenges. 

Also one of the biggest things that we're focused on this year—one of our three objectives with Young Brothers Academy is parent engagement. We realized that we cannot do anything without help from the village. Yes, we work with the young men but this year we've been extending outreach to the parents and that's been impactful as well.

What was it like to be named among the Best and Brightest 35 and Under from Greenville Business Magazine?

It was a reward for the work. And so when I say it wasn't a surprise, I mean, that as humbly as possible. It's like, well, when you've been putting in work for a while and begin to see the fruits of your labor.

How do you envision your future as an educator?

I don't know, but I'm definitely open and willing to whatever door God opens up for me. I just want to be prepared to enter and I think everything I'm doing now is equipping me for whatever—He has the good and the bad. Through these times I'm learning to be present, learning to be grateful for where I'm at. But also when God says move, I want to make sure I'm prepared and ready to be whatever door that he has for me, and it definitely would be education. I don't know what form or fashion, but I always want to hover around education—that is where I get the most fulfilled. 

Cox Justus
Justus Cox
Graduated from Anderson University: 2016
Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education, Master of Education
Title: Assistant Principal of Legacy Early College Middle School, Executive Director of Young Brothers Academy, Greenville, South Carolina