Stereotypes don’t always die a natural death; sometimes you have to kill them.
Take the one about the disappearing black males, the men who are never around to provide guidance and serve as role models. Don’t believe it.
Instead, watch what’s happening at Futures Academy, School 37, where black men are volunteering to mentor eighth-grade boys in one of the city’s “turnaround” schools that got a new principal last year and a staff overhaul.
The initiative pairing more than a dozen men and boys is an outgrowth of the Schools of Wisdom program that the Rev. Gene Coplin has run for years at Futures and other schools as part of his Project LEE – Learning and Earning Experiences – that drives home to students the importance of deportment, attitude and grades to be successful.
This spring, he recruited African-American men to work one-on-one with the boys. He also provided another dimension: teaching what it means to be a gentleman, a term that seems quaint in an age when music companies make money showing black boys how to act like thugs, demean women and “dis” authority.
Coplin has been fighting that trend for years, teaching kids the importance of good decision-making. Now he’s getting help from other men.
The role models met the students for the first time this week at the Carlton Street school on the near East Side. The men come from all walks of life, recruited in venues ranging from colleges to black churches. They have one thing in common: a desire to give back by preparing the next generation.
“It starts at home, but if we can get the children to focus when they are under supervision, they will begin to look at the world as a different place,” said Andrew Scott, 25, a SUNY Buffalo State psychology major. “I think they’ll have a sense of direction coming out of this program.”
Archie Galloway, 56, a retired state Department of Transportation supervisor, already raised his son as a single father. Now he wants to help other boys.
“I want to try to show a positive image to them,” said Galloway, who responded to Coplin’s pitch at Zion Dominion Church on Sunday.
“If I can show him what a man is supposed to be, if he hasn’t had that in his life already, that’s what I want to do.”
Many haven’t had that example. But even those who have – a couple of fathers were on hand at Futures – “need the extra reinforcement,” said Coplin, himself a School 37 graduate who has been working in schools since the 1990s.
His group mentoring already has improved attendance and cut “behavioral infractions with the young men,” said Principal Tonja Williams.
Now the one-on-one help is preparing the boys for a “gentlemen’s day” when they will demonstrate their new social graces by opening doors and carrying books for girls in the school, which uses single-gender classes and is partnering with a variety of education consultants to improve achievement.
But the effort won’t end with gentlemen’s day. Coplin said the mentors will work with the boys through high school to prepare them for Say Yes to Education’s offer of a free college education.
In the process of helping kids, Coplin and the mentors are also answering all of the critics who wonder why strong black men are nowhere to be found.
If you can’t find them, you’re searching in the wrong places. Try looking for them in the lives of School 37’s kids.