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05

“Marlon, this is a white man’s world and you just have to learn to live with it” – Executive Officer, Headquarters Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 9thMarine Division, Camp Schwab, Okinawa, Japan

I was thinking about President Obama’s program for young men of color, which he recently unveiled, called My Brother’s Keeper and for some reason the opening quote resounded in my head. At the time, I was a First Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps attached to the same unit as the Lieutenant Colonel, who was my executive officer. I was sitting by myself in the Officer’s Club after work and he just walked over to me and without provocation made that remark. I said nothing to him, no emotional response whatsoever. He walked off.

That memory makes me wonder what the My Brother’s Keeper program will offer young men of color, especially young black men. First, the program seeks financial resources from foundations and corporations, which are controlled by whites. Second, it seeks to establish best practices for what works in helping to groom young men of color for service in society (i.e., for service in a so-called “white man’s world”).

I, unlike my former executive officer, do NOT believe that this is a “white man’s world”. I am sad to say however, that I believe that many blacks believe that it is. Therein rests the fundamental problem that I have with programs designed for young black men. They will ultimately mode and train our young men for service in white America rather than mode and train them for service in their own decrepit communities. The latter is in greater need than the former. My line of thinking is comparable to another current line of thinking which is encouraging college educated and experienced individuals to teach in inner city schools and in rural areas. There are greater needs for qualified teachers in those areas, thus, the current line of thinking.

I also make a second observation: blacks who have been recognized, accepted, and approved into corporate America tend to turn their backs on their own communities and to disdain most things black.

“I don’t want anything to do with anything black!” – Black preacher, Dayton, Ohio

I was talking to this preacher about my organization, the Black Man’s Think Tank, and was looking for collaborations with other black-run organizations. I found none here. Many of us are familiar with this attitude. I find it most often among educated blacks, who are trained for service in corporate “white” America and in the public sector.

What was W.E.B. Du Bois’ thinking about college-educated blacks?

W.E.B. Dubois on the “Talented Tenth”,

The Negro race, like all races, is going to be saved by its exceptional men. The problem of education, then, among Negroes must first of all deal with the Talented Tenth; it is the problem of developing the Best of this race that they may guide the Mass away from the contamination and death of the Worst, in their own and other races…. If we make money the object of man-training, we shall develop money-makers but not necessarily men; if we make technical skill the object of education, we may possess artisans but not, in nature, men. Men we shall have only as we make manhood the object of the work of the schools—intelligence, broad sympathy, knowledge of the world that was and is, and of the relation of men to it—this is the curriculum of that Higher Education which must underlie true life. On this foundation we may build bread winning, skill of hand and quickness of brain, with never a fear lest the child and man mistake the means of living for the object of life. . . .

Can the masses of the Negro people be in any possible way more quickly raised than by the effort and example of this aristocracy of talent and character? Was there ever a nation on God’s fair earth civilized from the bottom upward? Never; it is, ever was and ever will be from the top downward that culture filters. The Talented Tenth rises and pulls all that are worth the saving up to their vantage ground. This is the history of human progress; and the two historic mistakes which have hindered that progress were the thinking first that no more could ever rise save the few already risen; or second, that it would better the unrisen to pull the risen down.

If Du Bois could comment on black life today, what would he think of the “Talented Tenth”?

Mentoring Program Effectiveness

This brings me back to President Obama’s program. He is looking for evidence of successful programs that prepare young minority men for service in society. Unfortunately, there has been very little evaluative research that supports the effectiveness of mentoring programs and rites of passage programs for young men of color. I searched for a meta-analysis of evaluation of mentoring programs and found Effectiveness of Mentoring Programs for Youth: A Meta-Analytic Review. I summarize its findings here.

Mentoring programs vary in design, implementation, frequency, and features. Overall, mentoring programs have average positive outcomes, but these outcomes fall short when compared to the outcomes youth receive in psychological, educational, behavioral, and mental health programs. Program developers would do well to include the following theory-based aspects into their mentoring programs:

  1. Ongoing training for mentors.
  2. Structured activities for mentors and youth.
  3. Expectations for frequency of contact.
  4. Mechanisms for support and involvement of parents.
  5. Monitoring of overall program implementation.

These aspects should not play back seat to other aspects such as screening of mentors, initial training and orientation, and matching of youth and mentors. The study also suggested that recruiting older adults who have successfully reared their own children and persons who have work experience in human and social services would be advantageous.

Limitations of the study were also noted. The most notable was the failure of the study to identify cause and effect relationships (i.e., the inability to attribute any single program feature to a single positive, observable effect on youth). I add that it would not be possible for a study of this type to infer cause and effect relationships. It is unlikely that any study could claim such relationships because of methodological and ethical concerns. Additionally, the authors issued a stern warning about the generalizability of their study to other programs because of the small number programs included in their study and the diverse number of programs which were not. There simply is not enough robust evidence to make valid claims about the effectiveness of mentoring programs.

Conclusion

Mentoring programs have grown in part because of the observation that at-risk youth seem to respond positively to naturally occurring relationships with adults outside of their homes. At-risk youth are typically youth who live in disadvantaged communities (i.e., impoverished communities with few or inadequate resources). From this viewpoint, positive adults tend to enrich the environment from which children come. An implication also exists. Until we as a nation attend to poverty and wealth and income disparity in this country, mentoring programs are at best a Band-Aid solution.

More germane to the black and Hispanic communities is the need for its best and brightest citizens to provide educational, psychological, behavioral, mental health services, and jobs in these communities. In short, they must provide leadership.  Carter G. Woodson said it best, “one’s education is best measured by one’s devotion and ability to uplift and advance his community.” The reader may also recall that Woodson wrote about the miseducation of college-educated blacks. If we are to truly development our young men, we must concurrently address what constitutes a proper education for blacks attending colleges and universities. We must attend to the proper development of the “The Talented Tenth”.

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