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‘We are our brother’s keeper’

By JONATHAN QUASH | 3/14/2014, 1:10 p.m.

Much is said of the state of Black America, especially young Black males, but there are so few who are willing to offer solutions to combat the incarceration rates (one in three Black males born in 2009 will likely be a guest of a penitentiary in his lifetime) or bolster graduation rates (only 52 percent of Black males graduate high school). There is an eagerness to point out the issues, but the zeal is lacking when it is time to mete out solutions.

A few weeks ago, President Barack Obama offered suggestions to some of the ills facing the Black family, including an initiative called “My Brother’s Keeper,” which is aimed at empowering boys and young men of color. At York College, of the City University of New York (CUNY), we know that we are our brother’s keeper and understand the importance of providing support and resources to ensure that young men of color are not forgotten and their bright futures become the norm and not the exception.

For the past eight years, the Black Male Initiative, a CUNY-wide endeavor, has been operating in communities across New York City and has tended and nurtured the futures of many young men.

At York College, the affiliated programs, called the Male Initiative, run the gamut, and their common goal is to contribute to the improved enrollment and graduation rates of underrepresented populations, particularly Black and Latino male students. Our passion lies in helping students prepare for college, and once here, helping them succeed. 

The young men who participate in the program at times come to us unprepared, and they do not know or understand their full potential. There is nothing like watching a young man come into his own and being a witness to something amazing. These men possess untapped potential, but at times, these young men do not know nor understand that their bright beginnings were always within their grasp.

Our slate of programs includes Teachers as Leaders, which serves as a training and mentorship program. Students with an interest in becoming educators gain classroom experience while they mentor younger scholars. This program was previously funded by the Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation and the Schott Foundation for Public Education, but currently, we are in desperate need of financial support to ensure that Teachers as Leaders will be here for the next generation of scholars.

Another program in our wheelhouse is our structured mentoring program, which shepherds freshmen through the ins and outs of their undergraduate years and provides support to those seeking postgraduate degrees. The Barbershop program is a monthly forum sponsored by our Men’s Center that allows students to express their opinions about any issue. It is a space that allows them to be heard without judgment.

We bolster their confidence and pride by giving them shining examples of their possibilities. We host the Annual Men’s Conference every fall. The seminar highlights the success of members of the college’s surrounding communities as the gold standard. Attendees share their stories of hardship and triumph; these anecdotes are the basis for inspiration and aspiration.

The beauty of the Male Initiative is that our doors are never closed to anyone seeking help; we try to reach every individual no matter their station in life. Though the program is aptly named for the targeted demographic, we also serve women. Our assistance is not relegated to college students; we think of ourselves as a resource for the community at large.

Many of our young men may feel like their options are limited; we are here to be their support and their resource. We think of this as important work. Though it may be cliché, we are preparing the hearts and minds of tomorrow’s leaders. On the surface, it may seem that the reward goes to those who have participated in the CUNY Black Male Initiative program, but truthfully, it belongs to all of us.

We at the CUNY York College Male Initiative take pride in our mission to aid anyone who has vowed to change their lives.

Jonathan Quash is the director of the York College Men’s Center and an adjunct lecturer.