KutDifferent exposes local boys to options they may not have been aware
Jamie Gilmore was incredulous the first time he heard his hometown of Ocala referred to as “the horse capital.” Born and raised here in the heart of horse country and having been a prep football star, Gilmore found himself in Philadelphia while on a football scholarship at Temple University.
An elderly gentleman one day asked the 18-year-old Gilmore where he was from, and Gilmore’s reply sparked the response, “oh, that’s the horse capital!”
The old man’s remark prompted a phone call back home to mom: “Are we the horse capital?”
“Yeah, boy,” his mother answered. “You didn’t know that?!”
It could have been a bolt of lightning that struck Gilmore at that moment – he realized then there was a whole other world he hadn’t seen in his time growing up and it was in his back yard the entire time.
“What does that tell you?” Gilmore rhetorically asks. “I knew we had horses, but I didn’t know we were the ‘horse capital.’ That wasn’t my world. I played athletics and I wasn’t exposed to those things, those opportunities.”
That revelation stuck with Gilmore, who has since set out to make sure boys like him don’t go through childhood with the same lack of exposure. Gilmore and older brother, Eddie Rocker (himself a prep football star who played collegiately), formed KutDifferent, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that sets out to make sure young boys are exposed to all the options that exist in society, particularly in Ocala. Along the way, the boys are mentored by strong role models such as Gilmore, Rocker and Director of Activities Tony McCall, himself a local track and field legend who competed for Team USA in the 1997 and 1999 World Championships.
As athletes, Gilmore and Rocker hold a particular sway over young people, especially young black males who may perceive sports above all other things as a proper route in life. Gilmore and Rocker provide a message and a program for these youths to let them know there is a lot more out there than just hoops, basepaths and goal posts.
“We preach to our young boys, ‘be your own greatness,’” Gilmore said. “A lot of them like sports, so I do this analogy: Lebron James is a great basketball player and Michael Jackson is a great entertainer; Tom Brady, he’s a great football player – they’re all great, but they’re different; greatness looks different for all of them.”
For the boys engaged in the KutDifferent program, worlds they may not have otherwise been cognizant are exposed to them, worlds that include industries of technical and manufacturing variety, professional services like legal and medical and even those in the agricultural sector.
Boys in the program take trips to places like Cone Distributing, Cheney Brothers and Bedrock Resources where they can see first-hand what takes place at a real business and even participate while there. There have even been trips to the Appleton Museum and City Hall to meet the mayor.
To many, these places may seem ordinary, everyday elements of the community not to be given a second thought. But to kids in the KutDifferent program, these places represent opportunities to which they had never been exposed.
At the start of the summer program, Gilmore makes sure to ask all the kids what they plan on being when they grow up. “Each one said they wanted to be an NBA or an NFL player,” Gilmore explained. “One of the boys had never played on an organized sports team in his life, but that’s all he knew what to say – that’s what he attributes success to.”
At the conclusion of the summer program, Gilmore again asks the kids what they plan on being when they grow up, and the answers come up much different than before.
“They were saying, ‘I want to be a fireman’ or ‘I want to be a member of Team Cone.’”
Gilmore says the whole philosophy of KutDifferent revolves around “prevention” as opposed to “reaction.” KutDifferent’s program is designed to catch kids before they get into trouble and need to be mended. It’s all about showing young boys their potential in becoming strong men with nearly infinite possibilities to chase, as opposed to hoop dreams that are destined to end in failure for the vast majority.
“We have some great non-profits here that do great work, but most of it is reactive,” Gilmore said. “We want to be proactive and we think exposure is the key. If you can show him a beautiful world outside where he lives, that sparks that motivation.”
Part of the mentorship is in making sure the boys carry themselves like professionals, getting them to understand that how you appear and converse with others says a lot about your self-confidence. KutDifferent preaches “Five Points of Communication” which all the kids are to adhere:
1. Project Your Voice
2. Firm Hand Shake
3. Body Language. “Sit up in your chair like a man.”
4. Posture. “Walk straight with your chest out.”
5. Eye Contact. “If I’m talking to you, you look me in the eye.”
“We preach these five points of communication every day to these kids,” Gilmore said.
It’s all a part of mentoring young boys to be solid men and not waiting for them to taste failure and go down the wrong path.
“I get parents all the time telling me how their kid has changed,” Gilmore said. “We’re just here to show the kids the world, show them these businesses. You don’t have to be trapped in a mindset.”
KutDifferent is planning on four different upcoming trips – two to sports events either in Gainesville or Tampa – with two going out of the state. In order to attend, though, boys must attain a certain grade point average in school and meet a requirement of referrals, incentives to keep them focused on the right priorities.
“Now, you’re setting goals for kids. They have a motivation to be there and do well.”
KutDifferent is going to be part of Give 4 Marion Sept. 21-22 at give4marion.org. Also, anyone wanting to donate to the organization may visit kutdifferent.org.