Connections Count

Mentoring programs collaborate to help young men get into college

Justin Williams knows the value of making a simple connection. As an incoming freshman at George W. Fowler High School, Williams was academically apathetic and uninvolved in his community.
One organization changed his perspective, and ultimately, his life.

Justin Williams

Williams, who will attend Le Moyne College this fall to study physics, was introduced to Syracuse’s chapter of the 100 Black Men and became a devoted participant for all four years of high school. The organization, which has 116 chapters, taught Williams about black history and cultural issues while also molding him into the young man he is today.

“I had one of my friends come with me to see what it was about, and the meetings had a lot of good discussions,” Williams said, looking back. “It being my freshman year, I had no idea what I was going into.”

The organization’s Syracuse chapter has positively influenced students such as Williams even before it was officially awarded a charter into 100 Black Men of America in 2009, and members said it’s because of its emphasis on morals and education. The founding principles involve establishing an environment where young men are motivated to succeed, according to its vision statement. The goal is important in an area where children need guidance and there is not much help available.

Jawwaad Rasheed, the chapter’s vice president of programs, helps oversee the various mentoring activities. In addition to meetings at Fowler, which occur every Thursday from 3:20 to 5 p.m., organization members also hold group mentoring meetings at Blodgett Middle School, read to students at Percy Hughes Elementary School and participate in “Manhood Training” for African-American teenagers. The chapter’s website indicates that Manhood Training is “a nontraditional and innovative approach designed to increase awareness and promote skills associated with a positive Black masculine identity.”

Rasheed acknowledged the value of role models for Syracuse youth.

“The important goal there is to have black men working with so many young black students that are in need of mentoring and guidance,” Rasheed said. “It’s a very, very strong mentoring program. That’s the core of 100 Black Men.”

Williams also had help from Junior Frontiers of the Mohawk Valley, which Rasheed co-directs with Rich Davis, U’nice Elliott and Barbara Scantlebury. Rasheed said it focuses primarily on academic excellence, then on professional development, civic service and self-esteem with the objective of helping young African-Americans become responsible adults.

Junior Frontiers, which began in Utica in 1996, is linked with 100 Black Men through Rasheed and also through the two groups’ priorities and collaboration.

“One of 100 Black Men’s goals and strengths is education, which has been an expertise of Junior Frontiers,” Rasheed said, noting that only one participating student has not graduated high school in the past 10 years. “We have a good college program as part of our academic excellence program. 100 Black Men has taken advantage of that with their educational program.”

The Junior Frontiers is also connected to 100 Black Men by partnering with the chapter to offer special programs to its students. The Junior Frontiers sponsors students on the Historical Black College Tour, the New York State Community College Tour, and the Ivy League Tour for those who qualify, Rasheed said.

Williams was a participant, and the Historical Black College Tour heavily influenced him, especially coming from a high school where 2009 figures showed only about a third of incoming students end up graduating.

“They sponsored me for college tours and they had all of the seniors apply to each college that we went to,” Williams said. “Without 100 Black Men, I don’t think that I would have been able to get into any of those colleges, but with their help I got into all of them.” He had the option to attend schools such as Shaw University, North Carolina A&T State University and Winston-Salem State University, all located in North Carolina.

The Dunbar Association is similarly focused on educating and inspiring Syracuse children, said teen coordinator Ruthnie Angrand. “Jawwaad Rasheed does a lot of work with youth, so we’ve been trying to create a male mentoring program between us,” Angrand said.

Eileen Arocho, the youth development specialist at Dunbar, agreed. “We want the children to see positive role models,” she said.

Someday, Williams wants to be that role model. “In the future, I hope to join the 100 Black Men and mentor kids of whatever age.”

Fowler student wants to be engineer from NewsHouse on Vimeo.

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