Empowering Black Male Youth at Cheyney University

In recent months, the City of Philadelphia has been the scene of flash mobs—large groups of youth that meet in parts of the city via text message—with the goals of vandalizing, stealing, and causing disruptions to those going about their day in the city. Just this week, Mayor Michael Nutter placed a curfew on youth in Philadelphia, making it illegal for them to be downtown after 9 p.m. without a chaperone. Although Mayor Nutter’s response will hopefully curb the violence resulting from the flash mobs, it doesn’t get at the root of the problem. Thankfully, he is also lengthening the hours of local civic centers and recreation centers.

At its core, the flash-mob problem is the result of youth having little to do and being without structure. Imagine if all of the energy put into planning the flash mobs was put into doing something constructive. These youths are craving adult attention so it’s vital that we give it to them in meaningful ways.

One institution that is reaching out to youth who need direction is Cheyney University, located outside Philadelphia. The institution has a new program, directed by Howard Jean, which focuses on black boys in the greater Philadelphia area. It’s called the Summer Leadership Development Institute. The program’s goals include empowering these boys “to live in greatness as well-adjusted citizens, professionals, and contributors to their community.” Although the leaders at Cheyney, a historically black university, are not directly responding to the flash mobs, they could be given their goals and the needs of the youth participating in the vandalism and mayhem throughout the city.

In actuality, Cheyney created the program to counter the high dropout rates among black males in the city and to decrease the numbers of black youth in prison. The empowering of these young men entails personal, academic, and social mentoring and leadership development. Of note, Cheyney will focus on the academic preparation of these boys, assisting them with SAT success, preparing them for college, and increasing their pre-professional skills. These young men will also get a chance to experience life on a college campus during a week-long residential component of the leadership program. Exposure to college, according to higher-education researchers, is an impetus for college participation.

Through this exposure, mentoring, and some major refocusing, Cheyney hopes to change the lives of these young men and in turn help them to change the lives of other young black men. A key component of this program is the presence of black male role models. Cheyney is using its resources from its pre-service teacher program to bolster the impact of the youth leadership program, exposing these boys to successful black men—a strategy that is backed up by research at all educational levels.

The fact that Cheyney is a historically black institution should not be lost on the reader as the institution is using the very best of what HBCU’s have to offer to make a difference in the lives of young black males. HBCU’s have long offered environments rich in role models, care, and nurturing of African American talent. Cheyney is not the only HBCU to host a program focused on empowering black men. There are programs at Prairie View A&M University, Morehouse College, and Philander Smith College, among others. All of us in higher education could learn a lot about ensuring the success of black males from the successes of these programs.

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