Young black males focus of new effort

Ret Boney

GREENSBORO, N.C. — In the fall of 2009, a group of more than 200 African-Americans in the Greensboro area embarked on a quest to find and address the top challenge facing the local black community.

The African-American Leadership engagement group of United Way of Greater Greensboro spent the next several months creating and launching a survey, interviewing civic and community leaders, educators, police chiefs and juvenile-justice experts.

After synthesizing their findings, the result was clear.

Every area identified as a major issue affecting the community has overlap with the crisis of the African-American male population, says Tamera Ziglar, leadership giving manager for United Way of Greater Greensboro.

In the spring of 2010, the African-American Leadership group, whose members each give between $1,000 and $9,999 a year to United Way, announced the African-American Male Initiative in partnership with Guilford County Schools.

African-American males are twice as likely to drop out of high school as white males, says Robin Kumoluyi, co-chair of the effort, and only 12 percent of black male eighth-graders are proficient in math, compared to 44 percent of their white counterparts.

And with demographic patterns indicating today’s minorities will constitute a majority in less than three decades, that performance gap is dangerous, she says.

“Those that are doing the worst will be the major part of our population,” says Kumoluyi, who is global vice president of quality operations for Novartis Animal Health. “We’re really costing ourselves our future.”

Through mentoring, career-development services and weekly tutoring in math and reading, the African-American Male initiative will target boys ages nine to 15, with the goal of closing the achievement gap and helping boys graduate from high school and pursue higher education or a career.

“If you touch them before nine years of age, you don’t have their attention,” says Ziglar. “If you wait beyond age 15, you’ve lost them. Our intention is to grab them at age nine and follow them through high school.”

Earlier this spring, the group held the first of its quarterly “discovery labs,” where it met with more than local 30 agencies that provide services to African-American males, and found that while the groups were aware of one another, few had worked together.

United Way and the African American Leadership group hope to be a convening force that can connect these groups and help them boost their collective impact, says Ziglar.

The group will launch the pilot phase of the effort at a local elementary school, middle school and high school when the academic year begins this August, and until then will be recruiting and training 100 to 200 volunteers to help with the effort.

Each volunteer must be willing to make a two-year commitment to the effort, and must participate in extensive trainings in July, including diversity training.

“It’s supporting giving our children a chance,” says Kumoluyi of the opportunity to volunteer. “But if you’re not going to be committed, specifically around the mentoring piece, then don’t volunteer. It’s more harmful to take an interest for a short period of time and then back out of it.”

The specific schools, which will be part of the same feeder system, are to be selected by Guilford County Schools this spring, and individual students will be selected with help from counselors and teachers at each school.

To pay for the program, which Ziglar says will require a full-time coordinator, United Way plans to write grant proposals and special donor appeals, in addition to using annual-campaign funds.

Beyond just the well-being of African-American males, Kumoluyi believes efforts like this that aim to raise the bar for Americans are critical for the nation’s competitiveness.

“We’re a very small world now,” she says. “If we don’t bring our education level up – not just school, but the ability of people to perform – we will be lost in the world economy.”

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