Philadelphia is revving up efforts to change the conversation about young black males. Anthony Martin, executive director and co-founder of What It Takes Foundation, is showing the way. WIT is a national outreach initiative to connect black boys with black men who can show them “what it takes” to achieve success.
Yesterday, I attended the launch of What It Takes E-mentoring program, which will use social media to connect 200 black males with 100 e-mentors in structured, caring online relationships.
Donna Frisby-Greenwood, Program Director for Philadelphia Knight Foundation, said the program will “show how technology can be used to engage people… It will show what technology can do when people come together.”
Indeed, Martin wants to augment the reality of what it means to be a black man:
Black males are portrayed in a negative light. When you’re portrayed in a negative light it becomes a negative reality… Kids see a lot of negativity and they start thinking negatively… We need more positive mentors in the community who can deliver the message about what it takes.
Martin said What It Takes will accentuate the positive:
Mentoring is vitally important… There are a lot of black men who are doing positive things and they need to be brought to light.
The keynote speaker, Dr. Anthony Junior, Education Program Manager for the Department of the Navy Office of Naval Research, is a black man who is doing positive things. He is also living proof of what can happen when someone takes the time to share knowledge and wisdom.
Dr. Junior shared his story of being one of those kids that folks cross the street to avoid. With the encouragement and support of a mentor, he went from a GS-4 federal employee to a high-ranking administrator and sought-after speaker with a Ph.D. from Jackson State University:
When you look at where people have arrived, you forget where they come from… Regardless of your circumstances, you were once that same kid, the disruptive kid, the kid who stayed out too late and knew too much.
He encourages young men to dream big:
Do you. Be you. You don’t need to be me. It’s not your circumstances that dictate where you are. Your blackness is not a handicap. Your blackness is a sword and shield that got you where you are.
Dr. Junior reminded us that we stand on the shoulders of unnamed and unsung heroes and heroines who cared enough to get involved in their community. Also, people who dreamed big.
If What It Takes takes root and is successful in Philly, Frisby-Greenwood said the Knight Foundation will roll it out across the country.
So if you have what it takes to show African American males how to get over the barriers to success, take the pledge.
Someone has to care.