This Tuesday, we spotlight three organizations that are all recent recipients of grants from the NBA Foundation. These three nonprofits work to support young men and offer a pathway toward a brighter future.
Male mentorship has been a positive force in communities of color across this country as caring individuals step up to offer a culturally relevant touchstone for young Black men.
Evidence suggests our culture has denied Black boys the chance to experience a true childhood. They are over-referred for discipline in school. When being considered by the criminal justice system, they are significantly more likely to be tried as adults and sentenced more harshly than white children.
That disparate treatment extends into adulthood.
In the United States, Black Americans are incarcerated at five times the rate of white Americans, according to the NAACP. One in three Black boys, based on that rate, can expect to go to prison in their lifetime, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Culturally tailored mentorship can help address these cruelties, allowing young people to grow and learn from a trusted adult or authority figure.
Studies show that the help of a mentor improves academic performance, social-emotional well-being and mental health among Black boys. Building a racial identity in youth is also associated with a series of positive outcomes, including boosting self-esteem and avoiding depression.
These important organizations offer guidance and care for young Black men, helping them overcome the pitfalls and difficulties of life, and ultimately thrive, succeeding professionally, academically and personally.
A Call To Men
Founded in 2002, A Call To Men strives to help men and boys break out of the “man box” and leave behind some of the outdated trappings of masculinity passed down through our society, including a disregard for the value and feelings of women, as well as the inclination to stifle honest emotion and embrace aggression.
Ted Bunch, co-founder and chief development officer of A Call To Men, said the organization was born out of a desire to change the culture surrounding violence against women and help stop it at its source.
“(Our work) addresses how (our) collective socialization can be harmful to not only women and girls and LGBTQ, gender non-conforming folks, but also men and boys,” Bunch said. “And we do it through a way that is an invitation to men, not an indictment of manhood. It’s never about pointing fingers. It’s about, ‘We’re all swimming in the same water…’ How do we be the best version of ourselves?”
Over the past 21 years, the organization has worked with more than 1 million men and boys, offering training sessions and a 12-week educational curriculum called “Live Respect,” which was written with Scholastic, Bunch said.
The course focuses on healthy manhood, gender equity, authenticity and power and privilege. It was implemented across 20 programs in five cities this past year, Bunch said, with the assistance of funds from the NBA Foundation.
Bunch noted that men, on average, die five to six years earlier than women. He attributed this to the rules and teachings of the “man box” — an unwillingness to ask for help or admit difficulty or pain and a focus on engaging in risky and/or dangerous behavior in order to prove one’s manhood.
By letting go of some of the conceptions of traditional masculinity, Bunch said men can embrace their authentic selves, understand and express a full range of emotions and help themselves, their families, their communities and society become healthy and whole.
“(At A Call To Men) Our vision is to create a world where all men and boys are loving and respectful, and all women and girls are valued and safe,” Bunch said. “And we believe… as we increase and promote healthy masculinity and healthy manhood, we decrease and prevent domestic violence, sexual assault, bullying, gun violence, homophobia and many other social ills.”
Click here to learn more about the powerful mission of A Call To Men.
Founded in 2012, the MKE Fellows program offers mentorship to young African-American men from Milwaukee, helping them through the intricacies of educational and professional development as they, in turn, enhance the talent pool of the region.
So far, the organization has more than 60 alums who have attended 31 different colleges and worked for a number of companies, including General Electric, Google, J.P. Morgan & Chase and the Milwaukee Bucks.
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Michael Hyler, engagement manager with the MKE Fellows, said the organization’s philosophy was based on five pillars of success.
First, a direct link to a mentor in their chosen field – an engineer would be linked with an engineer, a graphic designer with a graphic designer, Hyler said.
Second, multi-year internships, which provide experience and an introduction to the workplace, linking talent to potential employers.
Third, professional development with monthly sessions on the particular customs of the business world, from elevator pitches to tying the perfect tie.
“All these things that we do, with these students, is to make sure they’re ready for the world,” Hyler said.
Fourth, civic engagement. The Fellows attend events around the city, helping them gain experience with the requirements of professional life like networking, casual conversations and exchanging business cards.
Fifth, scholarships. Most of the Fellows are on the poverty line or below it, Hyler said.
On top of that, the group strives to provide “a family-oriented vibe,” Hyler said. He opens his door on the holidays. They’ve collected dress clothes, allowing fellows to appear dapper at a moment’s notice. They link Fellows with program alums at colleges and take them to lunch at companies in the area. There’s even fun outings like going to the movies or bowling together.
Hyler said the organization offers this level of support and investment as a steadying force — a constant reminder that professional success is attainable.
“In the population of students that we work with, there’s a lot of inconsistencies in their life, a lot of people running in and out of their lives,” Hyler said. “And the narrative about the young African-American male. Where we live in Milwaukee, the narrative is ‘They’re either going to end up dead or in jail.’ And we want to change the narrative. We want these young men to understand that we believe different. We believe you can be something. You will be something.”
Hyler said he hoped the Fellows come away from the program prepared for life.
“A good life, not just making it, not just reaching for the low-hanging fruit,” Hyler said. “I want my young men to understand that they can reach for the higher fruit and obtain it. I want them to understand they belong in corporate buildings. We want them to think big and execute. We want them to understand, as long as you’re executing the plan, you should be okay.”
Check out the next generation of leaders at MKE Fellows here.
Improve Your Tomorrow
Improve Your Tomorrow, founded in 2013, works with young men in California, helping them pursue their education from middle to high school to college and beyond.
“Our mission is to get young men of color to and through college,” said Hasani Johnson, senior director of development with the organization.
Among other aspects of the program, Improve Your Tomorrow connects students with slightly older mentors with similar lived experiences and offers support on a series of campuses, including Sacramento State and the University Of California-Davis.
Students can enter IYT’s College Academy in seventh grade, eventually moving on to the IYT Community College or IYT University programs. The organization also recruits new members on campus, striving to offer support to those in need, including transfer students.
Jeff Towey, program manager with the IYT University program, said that access to higher education can change one’s life, offering a chance to learn, network and grow in a lower-pressure environment before stepping out into the professional world.
“Having access to higher education — a bachelor’s degree or higher — potentially changes the trajectory of someone’s life, not just opportunity-wise… but having this whole other world open up to them,” Towey said. “The experience of going somewhere new, learning in a new space, meeting new people, and challenging yourself is always beneficial.”
This past year, IYT served more than 3,000 brothers, with plans to aid more than 4,500 this year, according to the organization. So far, 99% of the young men have graduated from high school, with 78% going on to college.
Towey and Johnson thanked the NBA Foundation for its support, saying that the funds have opened up new opportunities for the program such as expanding to other campuses and providing emergency grants to fellows in times of need.
“Just the fact that something as big as the NBA is willing to look towards communities like ours and do this work, I just appreciate it,” Towey sad. “We are so appreciative.”
Click here to learn more about the students and mentors of Improve Your Tomorrow, including testimonials from program and college graduates.
Founded in the Summer of 2020, the NBA Foundation, a joint collaboration between the NBA, NBPA and NBA Governors, has pledged over $300 million over 10 years to create economic empowerment in Black communities.
To learn more about the NBA Foundation, go to https://nbafoundation.com/