Mentoring: The Key to Preparing Future Leaders

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Dr. Shelton Goode, DPA

Of all the crises we face in the African American community today, I can think of none greater than the challenge of motivating, educating, and empowering black male learners.  The fact that this group of students is in crisis is evident on multiple levels, starting with graduation rates.

According to the Schott Foundation (2016), the U.S. high school graduation rate for black males is just 47 percent, compared with 57 percent for Latino males and 75 percent for white males. Alarming as this figure is, the situation becomes even more shocking in large urban school districts, such as Milwaukee, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Detroit where the graduation rate for black males ranges from 20 to 30 percent.

The crisis does not begin when students drop out of school. In far too many cases, it begins before they even enter school. As they move through the grades, black male students as a group have low achievement levels, excessively high suspension and expulsion rates, and a disproportionate number of special education referrals. In my 15 years of mentoring black males in high school, countless numbers of my mentees entered high school reading one to three years below grade level.

These school-related gaps culminate — according to the Schott Foundation — in black male adults who are more chronically unemployed and underemployed, are less healthy and have access to fewer health care resources, die much younger, and are many times more likely to be sent to jail for periods significantly longer than males of other racial/ethnic groups.

Of course, many black male students do well in school and go on to live successful lives. Millions of black males have achieved great things—and that includes those who grew up in high-poverty and high-crime communities. But we can’t ignore the statistics that tell us that our education system is failing far too many of our young black males.

The Role Model Crisis

As a corporate diversity executive and college professor, I have frequent opportunities to talk with educators at all levels. A staggering number of high school teachers tell me they have run out of ideas on how to keep their black male students focused and inspired. Many teachers break down in tears during this conversation. They desperately want to help their black male students succeed, but they feel overwhelmed by the challenge.

What can we do? In my book, So You Think You Can Teach I discuss methods that teachers could use. In my research for the book I was struck by one thing in particular — the reality that approximately 50 percent of black children in the United States live in households without a father figure present (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012).

I began to ask myself, who is going to provide my black male students with the proper male guidance, direction, leadership, and structure that they desperately need? Black male students need to see adult males who are striving to fulfill their own potential and who are also committed to the growth and development of the younger generation. I felt that if my mentees had men in their lives whom they could relate to and identify with, they would look at their education differently and the probability for their success would increase exponentially.

Although there are many strategies that good teachers of any gender and ethnicity can implement on a classroom level to support the success of black male students, I believe that to maximize classroom efforts, educators at all levels must ensure that young black males have opportunities to learn from role models whom they can identify with. The best way of making this happen is to launch a high school mentoring program that includes the following elements:

  • Small-group sessions of 5–10 students led by black men with prominent positions in corporate America.
  • One-to-one mentoring with a black male adult for individual students who especially need guidance.
  • Opportunities for the mentees to meet and spend time with black male college students, including visits to a college campus.
  • Opportunities for the mentees to meet and spend time with successful black men in their work environment through partnerships with specific companies and agencies.
  • Having black men in positions of corporate, community, church, and political leadership meet with students at the school, as well as allowing students to visit them in their local offices.
  • Dress for Success days — set aside special Dress for Success days and treat them as celebrations.
  • After-school male study groups, in which students with specific interests discuss those interests.

Mentoring programs work as effectively in racially diverse schools as it does in majority black schools. The message of self-respect is universal, so all students can benefit. Diversity is a reality in America Today. Whether we let diversity drain our companies, communities and country or serve as a platform for social change is both a choice and a challenge.

As I state in my book, Crisis as a Platform for Social Change from Strawberry Mansion to Silicon Valley mentoring gives future African American male leaders the insights and perspectives they will need to help us navigate through this simmering crisis — and find creative solutions for achieving a more inclusive America.

For more information, please read my book Crisis as A Platform for Social Change from Strawberry Mansion to Silicon Valley