Pen or Pencil

PEN OR PENCIL (POP™) is a year-round culturally based academic and mentoring enhancement curriculum created by the National Alliance of Faith and Justice (NAFJ).


In designing POP™, NAFJ recognizes the fact that many young face a lack of critical resources, psychological disempowerment, and systemic disparities. These issues contribute to dramatic gaps in achievement that are personally detrimental and expensive to society as a whole. Since its inception in 2000, NAFJ has been committed to the reinvestment of justice and to the well documented and sustained evidenced-based programming which encourages youth to persevere through the challenges such as those perceived of schooling, getting prepared for college, graduating high school, and decisions, which would help them to transition into a viable career. NAFJ further uses POP to empower youth thus championing a cultural based mentoring methodology which promotes consciousness-raising, skill-building and leadership development particularly, but not exclusively to, uplifting the contributions of African Americans in American history.

POP™ is endorsed by the National Council for the Social Studies and is recognized by the National Association of State Directors of Special Education and the National Disability Rights Network as a rapidly evolving approach for promoting educational success and reducing delinquency. While preparing mentees for broader adult responsibilities, POP™ integrates the resilience, youth leadership, self-determination, and lessons learned from little and well-known persons and stories of civil rights and Underground Railroad history as a caveat to ethnic identity and transformational intervention. To support this, NAFJ has partnered with the National Park Service and other national partner organizations as an official program of the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Initiative and maintains a cooperative agreement with the agency through the Interpretation and Education Division to further expand a multitude of mutual agency/partner goals.

Since it launch in 2005, POP™ has been implemented through a rapidly growing, diverse nationwide network of autonomous affiliates who enter into Memorandum of Understanding with NAFJ (subject to appropriate review and screening of oversight coordinators and certifications) to provide school- and/or community-based alternatives and generate awareness and reduction of disproportionate and adverse minority contact. Research is ongoing by the Association of Black Psychologists to ensure empirically sound outcomes. POP™ incorporates evidence-based operational standards into sound organizational frameworks, to include faith, educational, and community affiliate organizations.


Though open to children of all backgrounds, outreach priorities are youth who are at greatest risk of

disconnection. Special programing is also offered to children of military families between the ages of 8-17 to include those involved in the juvenile justice system. The Maryland Department of Education Juvenile Services Division as a credit-based intervention officially uses it for juveniles in secure confinement.


POP™ is curriculum driven. It offers an extensive menu of activities, subtopics, and lesson plans, media and print tools to include orientation and basic training for mentors to include the involvement of parents in the program, the delivery of structured activities, and the expansion of ongoing training and support for mentors. The curriculum is enriched with STEM subcomponents, adaptable for all students, and is particularly effective for use in environments where civil rights education and its applicability to current life challenges is lacking. Selectees from each location (both mentees and mentors) convene, network, and compete during the summer in a central location for the PEN OR PENCIL™ Mentoring Summit.


More information can be found on our website,