Intrusive Attention Key for Black Males in Higher Ed

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With more than 22 years in higher education, I am no stranger to what can be achieved when diligent and personal service is afforded to young Black and Latino men. The recent call to action by President Obama on behalf of Black and Latino young men provides startling statistics and realities to those responsible for integrating, collaborating and elevating the social position of these underrepresented populations.

To the point, they need to graduate, and we’re failing at getting them to the stage. Many programs across the country use “intervention” tactics to “spark” graduation rates. Although some have been successful, most intervention tactics hit nowhere near the mark. Still these programs are administered everyday around the country, and what I’ve found as a critical ingredient in the most successful programs is that they seek to make immediate and sustainable impact by applying a concept I call “Intrusive attention.”

I was fortunate some years back to start a male development program at a mid-western university. The students named it, Da BOMB, an acronym for Black Optimistic Men and Brothers, which represented the powerful energy released when positive Black men come together. This program took athletes, choir boys, Greeks and geeks and turned them into progressive scholars, spiritual beings and overcomers. The students even came together and actually paid their president at a rate that was the highest among student workers throughout the university. The BOMB still exists today, but there was something missing from its core, and I knew it, so I began to search for a better mousetrap.

About 15 years ago, I heard about the Student African American Brotherhood (SAAB). SAAB, now sometimes referred to as SAAB/B2B (Brother 2 Brother for a more inclusive title) began in 1990 at Georgia Southern University. Today it has grown to more than 250 chapters across college and university campuses; middle and high schools in more than 39 states in the U.S.  Each chapter is run by student leaders.

I saw early-on that SAAB/B2B employs what I’ve come to know as intrusive attention ― the in-depth, whole-person approach to self-image transformation and societal responsibility. SAAB /B2B was designed to ensure that young men of color enjoy the privilege of social, cultural and spiritual enrichment while achieving academic advancement to graduation. The program increases the number of African American and Latino men who graduate from college by creating a positive peer community based on a spirit of caring.

I had the privilege of oversight for a SAAB/B2B chapter in Northwest Indiana from 2005 until 2011. It boasted a roster of 60-plus junior college and four-year university men with ages ranging from 17 to 62 and a four-year retention rate of 87 percent. Intrusive attention provided to the life structure of these men was the key to success.  We knew when the students were in class, and when they were at work, or not. Most importantly, we knew who they loved and who they wanted to love them. We counseled about their closest friends and about being good fathers, men of faith, financially savvy and socially straight. The model in Indiana was the first of its kind for SAAB/B2B, a two-year/four-year school chapter, and it worked beautifully. In 2010, this chapter was dubbed “the most stellar chapter in the Mid-West.”

It’s a pleasure to now oversee another model for SAAB/B2B in Springfield, Mo., a place known well as the second whitest city of its size in the United States. This time, a pipeline for male development and academic advancement is expected to be built with support for universities, high schools and middle schools. This work is timely and aligns perfectly with the onset of President Obama’s Initiative for Young Black Men.  We are just getting started, so let me tell you what has happened thus far, what took place this weekend and what will happen in the coming weeks.

Students ranging from 6th grade to graduate school began their exposure to SAAB/ B2B via an introductory meeting with two notables, Dr. Tyrone Bledsoe, founder of SAAB, and Mr. Hezekiah Griggs III, a highly successful entrepreneur and CEO of multi-media companies. I joined them in addressing the students about a journey to graduation and success that was to begin that day. The students underwent get-to-know activities, including afternoon sports, and finished the introductory weekend at church Sunday morning. What followed two weeks later was an intense “get-ready-for-tough-love” weekend leadership camp, led by Griggs, which started each day at 5:30 a.m. and ended at 11 p.m. Prior to the leadership camp, a call for mentors and support for this program to the Springfield community was made by the Program Coordinator Francine Pratt. The community responded well to this needed initiative, and the mentors were present during the entire leadership camp weekend.

This past weekend’s activity included more leadership activity, business planning and officer selection by about 35 Black and Latino young men. They set personal goals that extend over the next three years. They received “the program,” a three-hour orientation about how to run their meetings, support each other and hold each other accountable for committee responsibility. That was the third start-up meeting of a five-university, three-high school and two-middle school chapter of what the students call the Bridge Springfield Brother 2 Brother initiative for male development.

This coming weekend, students will travel to the SAAB/B2B National Conference in Dearborn, Michigan.

Ultimately, the students who remain in Bridge Springfield are expected to graduate and be prepared to serve their home community, or anywhere they find themselves.

I believe it is clear that the leadership of this landmark male development program understands the value and impact that intrusive attention can have on young men who are in most cases left to define life through their own devices.

I further believe that every Predominately White Institution, Hispanic-Serving Institution and Historically Black College and University should adopt this or a similar model for male development. We are committed to “saving lives and salvaging dreams” because the data show that it works. And, as implied in the SAAB/B2B motto: “I am my brother’s keeper and together we will rise!”

Dr. Kenneth Coopwood, Sr. is Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion at Missouri State University.

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