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Becoming a big brother: responding to the plight of African-American boys, real men are stepping in as mentors--and making a difference.


David Banks, one of the founders of the Eagle Academy for boys in New York City, remembers a proud moment.

It involved Jonathan Jones, a ninth-grader who had bee labeled as a special-education student before he enrolled in the school. "He wasn't a bad kid," recalls Banks, who was principal of the academy at the time. "He was more of a [schemer]."

Banks, who is on the board of the 100 Black Men of America, Inc., the organization that started the charter school five years ago in New York's Bronx area, assigned Jonathan to a mentor. Jonathan thrived under the tutelage of attorney Robert Reed and later went on to become the first Eagle Academy student to receive a four-year Posse Scholarship, given by the Posse Foundation Inc. to students who exhibit outstanding leadership qualities.


"When I called Jonathan's mother to tell her the [scholarship] news, she was silent, and then she began to totally break down and thanked God and the 100 Black Men and Robert Reed," Banks recalls.

It's a positive story that presents a glimmer of much-needed hope. Report after report dooms Black boys to failure.

They include the Justice Department's finding released last year that more than half of the nation's murder victims are Black males between 17 and 29 years of age. The high-school dropout rate for Black males is more than 50 percent. Men of color continue to fill the prison systems around the country, especially in states like New York, where 75 percent of the inmates are from seven neighborhoods known as "the prison pipeline."

To curtail those issues, Banks mad members of the 100 Black Men of America, a national organization of professional men, are stepping up to reverse these dizzying numbers. Eagle Academy has 430 students, ages 14 through 18. The academy has an almost 100 percent college acceptance rate, and more than 2,000 applicants try to enroll each year.

Why have the boys at Eagle fared so well? Without hesitation, Banks says, "I don't have the magic answer as to why," he says. "I will say that the single greatest influence on these boys is that Dad is not [in the home]. A lot of teachers in the school system do not have a high level of expectation of young men, especially in elementary and high school, where the teachers are usually White women. At Eagle Academy, teachers are committed to the young men, and teachers are of a different gender and race. The students here are supported by a strong circle of adults."

The school's mentoring program includes two fulltime mentoring coordinators and has also been instrumental in pairing students with professional men who are lawyers, architects and bankers. There are 200 mentors at the school, which is one of the main reasons that the waiting list for students is so long. "The overwhelming majority chose to come here because they heard that they can get a mentor," Banks points out.


As young Black males learn how to navigate the tough streets of their neighborhoods, many have to conform and play the tough guy to survive. They need positive males to help guide them, Banks says.

In fact, statistics report that between 60 and 70 percent of Black children are without a father in the home.

That's one of the reasons that Dr. Joshua W. Murfree Jr. developed the 100 Black Men's Mentoring the 100 Way program in 1994. It pairs males from 8 to 18 with mentors and includes 10,000 mentors in 110 chapters around the country.

After hearing Murfree speak at the Rome, Ga., chapter of 100 Black Men, the national organization's president asked Murfree to help start a mentoring program.

At Albany State University in Georgia, Murfree is executive assistant to the president, administrative chief of staff and director of athletics. He took a business model and developed an elaborate 100 Black Men's mentoring program, and he travels around the country to teach it to others. It includes one-on-one and group mentoring. To measure the program's progress, he developed a technique knows as S.M.A.R.T.--Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Target Driven--goals that each mentor strives to achieve with his protege Corporate sponsor Nike gave $4.8 million to the Mentoring the 100 Way program, which trains mentors to deal with the issues that young males are facing.

"We identify what is there," says Murfree, "be it weapons or a father's absence. We've found that there is a discernible difference that we are making because we are mentors."

In Jackson, Miss., businessman Johnnie Terry received 100's Mentor of the Year award in 2007. A high school dropout himself, Terry went on to start a successful furniture-installation business. He now employs 25 full-time employees and has clients such as Bank One and Nike. Terry, who is known around Jackson for giving away a house or two, makes time to mentor two to three young men each year. One of his main objectives is to keep them in school.

Success as a mentor depends on trust, as Terry found with two previous mentees.

They had dismissed him as just another businessman, even though he dresses casually and often wears khakis. He took them out for lunch to a nice restaurant and they ordered giant burgers. The younger boy, after finishing his, wanted to know if he could order another.

"I told him that he could. After that, they both had trust in me," says Terry. "Be honest with them. Do what you say and say what you mean. Telling the truth is the best thing that you can do for these kids."

how to find a mentor


Is your child doing poorly in school or facing challenges with gangs or bullies? Some mentors can help stress the importance of a college education--even helping with enrollment. Others can address social issues, such as children who have a parent who is incarcerated.


Look at a number of resources. Aside from the 100 Black Men of America, Inc., there is the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the local YMCA/YWCA. There are also programs at privately owned companies, churches and community centers that can match your child with a mentor.


Find a mentor in the local businessman in your neighborhood, the community organizer who is great with kids or the very focused college student who attends your church. Each one is a possible mentor, or at the very least, can make a recommendation for someone else.
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Title Annotation:PARENTING; David Banks of 100 Black Men of America, Inc.
Author:Henderson, Shirley
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2008
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