It’s gotten so that I cringe every time I hear a young person say he wants to go into the music industry.
The Black community needs fewer would-be rappers and professional athletes and a whole lot more youngsters who aspire to be doctors, engineers, school teachers, and lawyers.
I know I sound like an oldhead, but I can’t help myself.
Too often, young people don’t seriously consider all the world has to offer before deciding on a career.
That’s why I applaud a relatively new program called Manhood 101: Abundant Life Mentoring Program for High School Young Men.
Twice a week, about a dozen African American males at Vaux Big Picture High School in North Philly meet over Zoom to participate in the program organized by 100 Black Men Philadelphia.
The program’s two lead mentors — David Chaney Sr. and Naim Bellinger — don’t focus on that, though. They are busy trying to save the rest of their young charges and encourage them to set their career goals high. They bring in professionals to discuss their various options. Participants get $50 a month. Sometimes all organizers do is listen to the youngsters talk.
What they’re doing is really important.
The single most important thing that the mentors do for their mentees is show up. Many of the participants don’t have fathers at home.
Young men need consistent, positive male role models in their lives willing to help them become productive members of society. What the mentors do extends far beyond the classroom. Students can call them in the middle of the night if they get stuck and need a ride. The mentors will step in and buy groceries for a struggling family or pay an internet or cell phone bill. And they don’t get paid a penny extra for what they do.
“ … The majority of our Black boys in Philly and other major cities aspire to be one of three things: a professional football or basketball player, a rapper, or a drug dealer,” said Joel Wilson, president and board chair of 100 Black Men Philadelphia. “We only have 20% of our boys looking to be engineers, teachers, doctors, pharmacists, and police officers. So, just from that model, the Black community has failed.
“So what we’re trying to do is … go after the 80% and show them all of these opportunities for becoming lawyers and judges. You can take care of your family. You can floss. You can buy whatever car, whatever home you want. You can have vacations. You can have a good life. And by your doing that individually, the community wins as a whole.”
Chaney and Bellinger are members of 100 Black Men, as well as on staff at Vaux, which is a joint partnership between the Public Housing Authority and Big Picture Philadelphia, which is part of a national education network. The 100 Black Men group picked Vaux because its enrollment is roughly 60% male.
I think it helps that both mentors live in the Sharswood area where many of the students are from. The students see them in the school and bump into them at neighborhood bodegas. The men are part of the community and available for the young men on all levels.
“That’s what it’s going to take, for the men in these neighborhoods to stand up and tell these young men: ‘When you commit these crimes and you look in the courtroom, none of your peers are there to support you. Only your family. Your mom or your grandmom,’ ” Bellinger said. “A lot of times they don’t have dads in the picture.”
But luckily for the remaining participants in the Manhood 101 program at Vaux, they have Chaney and Bellinger and 100 Black Men Philadelphia to guide them.
For more information, call Vaux at 267-507-9690 or go to 100 Black Men Philadelphia at http://www.100blackmenphilly.org/become-a-member.