Black Boys in Crisis: They Need Mentors

In this series, appropriately titled “Black Boys in Crisis,” I highlight the problems facing black boys in education today, as well as provide clear steps that will lead us out of the crisis.

Like many black boys growing up in Cincinnati, Wesley Gallaher had dreams of becoming a star basketball player. However, soon after he entered the University of Cincinnati, he was contacted by members of a group called the Hearts and Minds Pipeline Program, which has teamed up with Mercy Health to provide minority students with exposure to medical professions. As founder Gary Favors says, “Our black boys can do more than play athletics. We have to stop pigeon-holing them and start exposing them to other areas of interest.” African Americans are underrepresented in the medicine; in fact, only 2.5 percent of medical school entrants are black, a number that appears to have stagnated in recent years.

Favors worked closely with Gallaher, encouraging him to enter the medical field. Gallaher said, “A medical career was never in our scope growing up. It was never about being a doctor or engineer. It was all about being the next LeBron.” What Favors and other members of the mentoring group did for Gallaher was broaden that scope. Following Favors’ encouragement, Gallaher got his degree in medical science and now works as a technician in a lab at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. He, in turn, has acted as a mentor in the Hearts and Minds program, offering others the chance to broaden their scope.

In a study of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program published in Sage Journal, researchers Jean Grossman and Joseph Tierney stated: “Over the 18-month follow-up period, youths participating in Big Brothers Big Sisters Programs were significantly less likely to have started using illegal drugs or alcohol, hit someone, or skipped school. They were also more confident about their school performance and got along better with their families” (Grossman and Tierney 1998).

Other studies have turned up similar results. For example, Yolanda Barbier Gibson writes in the Journal of Mason Graduate Research that “African American males in mentoring programs tend to show higher self-esteem, higher levels of academic motivation, and performance. Also, evidence shows that when African American males have been given the opportunity to participate in higher education, and when well-conceived and formatted support systems such as mentoring programs are in place, they have been successful.”

At its best, mentoring redirects the focus from sports, music, and video games, giving black boys support for intellectual pursuit they often lack at home or among their peers. An ideal mentor is a successful person in the community: someone who has completed his education and now has a solid job. These mentors offer tangible alternatives to the sports-and-entertainment visions black boys obsess over and are often the only such role models the boys will encounter.

Do you think that providing black boys with mentors will help them diversify their career options, as opposed to blindly choosing sports or entertainment?

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