JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas –
John Piper is on a mission to give back to his community by positively shaping the lives of young men.
The design and construction manager at the Air Force Civil Engineer Center’s Facility Engineering Directorate volunteers his time as a mentor and role model to shape and inspire more than 40 of San Antonio’s Black youth toward a positive future.
As a member San Antonio’s chapter of the Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., Piper serves as the senior Kappa League chairman, where he helps young men achieve their goals.
“We provide educational, occupational and social guidance for male students in grades 6 to 12,” Piper said. “We assist young men from at-risk neighborhoods around San Antonio become college bound and productive members of their communities.”
As an Air Force civil engineer, a U.S. Navy veteran and a father figure to a 16-year-old, Piper said he wants to show young men different avenues available to them, give them a positive example and let them see the success of someone they can relate to because he looks like them.
Piper, who is also a member of the National Society of Black Engineers, officially joined the Kappa Alpha Psi organization in 2019. Previously, he supported the fraternity through its Guide Right program with his civil engineer expertise.
“When I learned the NSBE national convention was coming to San Antonio in 2020, before it got canceled, I was trying to connect it with my mentorship work to introduce young men to science, technology, engineering and math, and show them how they can excel academically,” Piper said.
“It is the right thing to do, to show young men they can be successful too, no matter what situation or circumstance,” Piper said.
The AFCEC engineer said he often runs into a challenge with Black youth when they say they don’t see anyone doing anything positive around them.
“Myself and other fraternity members want to change that mindset by showing young men new possibilities and a perspective from someone successful, who isn’t necessarily their parent or guardian,” he said.
Piper’s mentoring helped high school senior Jordan Glass become more aware of different educational opportunities.
“Working with Mr. Piper and the program helped me see the future better and gave me a better perspective on what my future could be like,” Glass said.
Before being part of the program, the young man saw himself attending a small college and possibly majoring in architecture. Now, he still plans to study architecture, but at a much larger university -- Louisiana State University. Also, thanks to Piper, he understands the wider options available in civil engineering.
“I’m now more aware that there are more options other than architecture that can help me achieve my goals which are to earn a bachelors or masters degree in college,” Glass said, “and become successful or more successful than my parents.”
Piper’s passion for giving back equates to anywhere from 25 to 40 hours a month and includes community service and a variety of business and leadership meetings.
“All my meetings are after work hours, where I sit in a lot of meetings, too,” Piper said. “I do the best I can to help young men be the best they can possibly be, and therefore I enjoy it.”
The young men Piper works with are involved in everything from the cleanup of a local park, voter registration and community service with the San Antonio Food Bank, to fellowship nights.
“Mr. Piper helped me learn life lessons,” Glass said, “and things to look out for when you're in a tough situation and when you have to make a tough choice, and it helped me contribute to more community service.”
The main focus of Piper’s work remains on lining young men up with educational goals.
For example, when someone was interested in a becoming a firefighter, Piper worked with the Department of Defense fire department at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas, to educate the young man about the pathway into the fire service and DOD firefighting school opportunities.
Piper said he eagerly talks about his profession and the realm of possibilities it offers to help young men make a choice on who they would like to become.
“I love my job and it makes me proud each time someone else would like to become an engineer. I am currently guiding three seniors planning to take up engineering courses to become a civil engineer, a software engineer and an architect,” Piper said.
Mentoring is more than helping someone find a career, it also means guiding students about tuition, Piper said. He helps them learn about resources available, like scholarship opportunities, to make their goals become a reality.
“I came from humble beginnings myself and know that you can do well not only in athletics to get a scholarship,” Piper said. “We have smart young men with excellent academic achievements and we guide them to different funding options.”
He also organizes college tours in Texas and Louisiana to help young men narrow down their choices.
“It makes me very proud to see students go off to college and become successful in life,” Piper said. “I feel very good, proud and accomplished when students are appreciative of our efforts and come back to say they would not be where they are without our support.