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Black Male Initiative Launched
Tyrone Bledsoe, founder and CEO of Brother to Brother, visits campus.
Amanda Dyslin, Mankato Free Press, 4-22-2014
Mankato, Minn. -- Changing the narrative is one of the most important elements of affecting change, said Tyrone Bledsoe to a crowd of about 75 mostly African-Americans and Latinos in Minnesota State University’s Centennial Student Union Monday night.
The societal narrative for young men of color in education says they are culturally damaged, endangered and need to be saved, said Bledsoe, founder and CEO of Brother to Brother, a national organization that aims to instill a “spirit of care” in black and Latino males, as well as enhance their educational experiences.
“Imagine if people described you like this every day,” Bledsoe said. “We want to actually get away from the deficit narratives. … You don’t empower anyone by talking about the deficits.”
Bledsoe is the founder and CEO of the Student African American Brotherhood, which began in 1990 on the campus of Georgia Southwestern State University. The organization “was established to address the academic and social challenges of African American males” and has collegiate and high school chapters across the country, according to saabnational.org.
“That’s what SAAB is about: ‘saving lives and salvaging dreams,” said Bledsoe, a Mississippi native.
Bledsoe’s visit to campus this week coincides with the launch of an initiative to work on the blackmale retention rate at MSU, as well as to promote multi-cultural unity. The catalyst for the initiative and Bledsoe’s visit to campus can be traced back to the Black Intelligent Gentlemen club, a group formed a couple of years ago to work on the retention rate of black male students.
At one of the club’s initial meetings in 2012, Henry Morris, dean of institutional diversity, explained the importance of the club’s presence on campus. Nationally, 2/3 of black men who start college don’t graduate.
“As you know, there are more black men in prison than in college,” said Morris at the meeting. “And we want to change that around.”
The ideas behind the group are to break down stereotypes between cultures, encourage black men to strive for self-improvement and professionalism, and, above all, keep them at MSU. Briana Williamson, interim recruitment and retention adviser in institutional diversity, said the club is completely studentfocused and has allowed students to be more aware of the African-American student population’s presence, involvement, contributions and issues.
But data shows that more needs to be done, she said — hence the Black Male Initiative.
The initiative is in line with President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, which aims to improve the economic and educational status of black and Hispanic men. According to whitehouse.gov, 86 percent of black boys and 82 percent of Hispanic boys read below proficiency levels by fourth grade (compared to 54 percent of white fourth-graders).
Philanthropies and corporate leaders have pledged $200 million over five years to go to programs aimed at closing the racial achievement gap and reduce the unemployment rate in the minority communities.
Williamson said a “departmental-controlled approach,” headed up by Institutional Diversity, will allow for a more strategic initiative and plan to be developed to attack the black-male retention issue, as well as to promote unity among all students. The word “club” seems more informal than the word “initiative,” she said.
“This is a pilot,” Williamson said. “(We are) seeing if this can help us.”
The initiative will include ethnicity-specific meetings, as well as larger multi-cultural meetings to promote brotherhood and bring in numerous perspectives on issues.
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