With D.C. Public Schools’ (DCPS) collaboration with two well-regarded enrichment programs comes the opportunity for young Black men at four local schools to blaze a path toward emotional maturity, self-awareness and postgraduate success.
For more than a decade, Becoming A Man (BAM) and The Fellowship Initiative (TFI), have, respectively, curbed violence among young men of color and connected hundreds in several major U.S. cities with academic coaching, college and career readiness services and leadership development.
While they have yet to experience the partnership, a group of students at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Northwest got a glimpse of what they should expect when a BAM graduate reflected on his growth in the program.
“It’s about self-discovery, knowing what’s for you and [knowing] there’s more for you out there other than being a statistic,” said Anthony Williams, a resident of Chicago who, after completing BAM in 2018, enrolled in Harold Washington College to study accounting.
Williams counted among several young men who spoke on Dec. 1 about how BAM and TFI propelled them to professional and personal success. He credited BAM with helping him channel his emotions and expanding what he believed to be possible.
“The core values of integrity, accountability and self-determination helped me [my potential],” Williams said. “Before the program, I was unaware. I didn’t know how to deal with my emotions and mental health. There are ways to do that when you have help and resources.”
A Tough Road Ahead for Many
In 2020, nearly 71 percent of DCPS students graduated high school within four years, a slight increase from the previous year. However, according to the DC Policy Center, navigating college and career can prove somewhat insurmountable. Data collected by the research organization shows that 14 percent of District high school graduates who enter college obtain their undergraduate degree within six years. Without a postsecondary degree, young people can expect to earn less than $20,000 annually in a city that’s becoming increasingly expensive.
The pandemic not only highlighted disparities that exacerbated gaps in academic achievement but increased calls among parents and teachers for schools to prioritize students’ social and emotional wellness. In preparation for the return to in-person learning, DCPS touted its school mental health teams which consist of school-based psychologists and social workers dedicated to providing therapeutic services for students and families.
The infusion of BAM and TFI, elements of which include weekly sessions, would augment these current offerings for Black and brown male enrollees.
BAM, launched by nonprofit Youth Guidance in Chicago, has been recognized by former President Barack Obama for its approach to trauma reduction and violence prevention. A study conducted by University of Chicago Urban Labs in 2015 found that BAM’s weekly sessions played a part in halving violent crime arrests among youth and boosting high school graduation rates by 20 percent.
Since its inception, JPMorgan Chase’s TFI has provided hands-on support to more than 350 young men of color attending high school in New York, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles. It recently expanded to Houston and Oakland as part of a commitment to produce a thousand more fellows over the next decade. The program’s development in D.C. counts as part of a $30 billion commitment to racial equity.
BAM and TFI will establish a presence at Dunbar, Eastern High School in Southeast and H.D. Woodson High School and Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, both located in Northeast.
Principals of each school attended the December 1 ceremony at Dunbar, along with DCPS Chancellor Lewis Ferebee and Howard University [HU] President Wayne A.I. Frederick.
Ferebee touted the partnership as an example of corporations working to level the playing field.
“We recognize the challenges our students [face] in every aspect [of their lives] so we’re happy to have organizations like JPMorgan Chase to recognize that journey,” he said. “We know this is an important investment for DCPS. It’s a model that’s tried and true. It signals to other corporations that there’s collective responsibility in upward mobility.”
Young Men See a Promising Future
Frederick, who reflected on his interactions with DCPS students on the bus as a Howard undergraduate, announced that DCPS graduates who complete BAM/TFI programs and successfully matriculate to HU will automatically receive full scholarships. During the event, Frederick revealed the HU wiped out the debt of Sagid Mohammed, a TFI fellow and current HU student.
Such aspects of the program intrigued Sekou Sidbury, a senior at Dunbar who aspires to become a mechanical and electrical engineer.
“They actually want to uplift Black youth and get them out of high school and into college. This program would open up a lot of doors for me to get into a college for academics and athletics,” said Sekou. “As a young Black man in the District, I’m facing all the gun violence and being overlooked. One of my challenges is getting the right friends that want to do big things outside the city.”
Anthony Patrick, also a senior at Dunbar, echoed Sekou’s thoughts as he highlighted the challenges he faces in navigating the District as a young person of color.
“This program would give me life skills and [expose] me to many opportunities,” said Anthony, who wants to pursue computer science. “In D.C., you don’t feel like you’re safe and seen. We’re overlooked academically [and] there’s always violence on the Southside. It’s not always safe to go outside.”