Mentorship Programs: Impacting Young Men Of Color

Mentorship Programs: Impacting Young Men Of Color

One program is changing the lives of young brothers in the Hudson Valley.
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In comparison to their Non-Hispanic, white peers, young men of color are performing at lower rates academically and in terms of career outcomes. Educators are wondering if they are not being challenged in the classroom, if they have no ambition, or if young men of color are being affected by cultural norms. Psychologists and sociologists know that there is not one answer to any of these questions, but research from the past fifteen to twenty years is showing that there has been, and continues to be, more than one factor at play.

Nearly every young person lacks a healthy balance between their private life, social life, and educational experience. It is a vulnerable time, the teenage years, when it feels the most difficult to “have it all” and when it seems like you need to have it all. Severe imbalances in these aspects of life are most common amongst young men of color; this in turn fosters outcomes that are less widely experienced by their non-colored peers. For the majority, most of these social/personal imbalances are triggered by environmental factors.

In 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that roughly 111,936 families of color lived below the poverty line. Economic factors alone will put any child from one of these families at a disadvantage for reaching graduation and performing well educationally. Poverty also increases their likelihood of developing physical and mental health issues. Other factors such as living in a single-parent household, environmental and social stressors, peer pressure, friend groups, cultural expectations, learning disabilities, health issues, lack of opportunity and marital transition within the family, all affect a child’s development and outcome.

Many young people of color are without close personal role models, particularly those that promote positive lifestyle choices. Without these figures, young people will do the only thing that they can do at this age: turn to their peers. The human brain is most vulnerable during youth and adolescence, not attaining full development until roughly age 25. An undeveloped mind will be molded by what it is exposed to and adhere to it, if not redirected.

More sociologists and psychologists are pushing for research on programs that tackle these issues, before they have the opportunity to become something greater. Mentorship programs, similar to Big Brothers Big Sisters, are emerging rapidly across the country and appear to be making the most significant changes in the lives of at risk adolescents. One program at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY is changing young lives in the Hudson Valley.

In 2014, founders and Bard College students Dariel Vasquez and Harry Johnson started brainstorming about a program that would act as a support for men of color on campus. “At the time,” Vasquez told me, “the number of students of color on campus was low.” He managed to round up roughly thirty members for the group in its first year running. The program, now referred to as Brothers at Bard, had started off solely as a group that allowed men of color to socialize, network, and foster a sense of family and solidarity between its members. Their program has three key elements, “Firstly, we’re on campus doing events as a club and working with other affinity groups. Secondly, we all play a role in supporting one another and networking within the group. Lastly, we developed and executed our off-campus mentorship program and we are working there every week with the young men in Kingston High School.”

After setting up the on campus group, both Vasquez and Johnson looked to expand Brothers at Bard into the community. Bard College offers students the opportunity to propose, design, and implement community engagement projects through the Trustee Leader Scholar (TLS) program. The pair sat down, mapped out a proposal, and the mentor program was later accepted. In fall of 2014, Vasquez and Johnson pitched their program to Kingston High School, located just across the Hudson River from Bard College. After being enthusiastically welcomed by the staff, the group then faced a greater challenge: recruitment within the student body.

Front row, seated third from the right is Vasquez and fourth from the right is Johnson at Harvard's Revisiting "Repairing the Breach" Conference (2014).

“We were going into a space where we were foreign. You can’t walk into a community that you aren’t a part of and suddenly be a part of it. You have to establish connections within that community, to make members of the community feel like they are a part of your program.” For Brothers at Bard, recruitment went better than planned. When Vasquez and Johnson showed up for their first pitch, the assistant principal had rounded-up countless young men and sent them their way. “Our recruitment is both formal and informal,” said Vasquez. “Formal recruitment is done through the assistant principal. She is essentially the mother of BAB and really selects any young man of color that she sees and sends them our way. We also accept potential mentee's from the ninth grade academy.” Informal recruitment, or “snowball recruitment” as they call it, has proven to be the most effective. “We talk with our devoted mentee's and tell them to bring a friend. When you’re seeing that your friend, your boy, comes to this program, now you want to as well.”

BAB operates on need-based terms and Vasquez expanded upon that terminology, “What does need-based mean? It’s vague, because each of our guys will need in different ways.” The group works with students with IEPs, learning disabilities, and with those who might need support or reconstruction in one or more aspects of their life. “There are some mentee's on high honor roll who need to be challenged in their personal lives. We also have mentee's who are lacking that essential structure at home and maybe don’t have a strong male figure or any support system at all.”

The mentors working with these high school students have an enormous responsibility. “When we were proposing that our program be a TLS program at Bard, that was when I first realized the kind of person that I had to be for these young guys. I have to be capable of providing care and understanding for them as this type of figure,” Vasquez recalled. Now he and Johnson are in charge of approximately 30 mentors, who are also Bard students and men of color. “Our mentors receive training in facilitation and handling difficult conversations, as well as a Title IX training. In sessions with the mentee's, we are making sure that we create a safe space for these guys to tackle the issues that they need to tackle.” That safe space helps develop a bond of trust for both the mentor and the mentee.

The program endeavors to expose their mentee's to successful, college-educated men of color, improve the community, and empower them to become leaders. “We are preparing young men of color for college, careers, and life beyond. There is so much that you can help them with in terms of their education but nobody thinks to teach them basic life skills, like tying a tie or how to match their clothing for an interview.” Weekly sessions also include lessons in communication skills. Vasquez noted, “Our guys are great at code switching. Code switching, is exactly what it sounds like. For example, I wouldn’t speak to someone who is interviewing me the way that I talk with my friends in casual conversation. The interviewer wouldn’t understand what I’m saying.” This is amongst the highest sought after qualities in the business world today. In addition to code switching, mentee's learn about tone of voice, eye contact, and body movement.

In other sessions, BAB has brought in speakers from the community for workshops, as well as former mentees, to share their stories with the group. “We’re not trying to create an image of success or draw out a single unilateral path to success. We want to create a support network, to inspire them to critically think, and become change agents in their own lives and their communities,” said Vasquez. “We want to provide them with everything that any normal child gets that they don’t.”

Since its launch in 2014, the program has helped send several students on to both colleges and careers. Brothers at Bard plans to work with other local and national programs, which will expose their mentees to even greater opportunities. On a personal note, Brothers at Bard consists of some of the nicest guys you'll ever meet! At this time, they are hosting their online fundraiser, which contributes to future programming and opportunities for the young mentees at Kingston High School. Follow this link to donate and support them in their courageous endeavors. If you would like to contact the group or read more about Brothers at Bard, click here.

Cover Image Credit: Bard Launch

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Your Wait time At Theme Parks Is Not Unfair, You're Just Impatient

Your perceived wait time is always going to be longer than your actual wait time if you can't take a minute to focus on something other than yourself.

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Toy Story Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios "unboxed" on June 30, 2018. My friend and I decided to brave the crowds on opening day. We got to the park around 7 AM only to find out that the park opened around 6 AM. Upon some more scrolling through multiple Disney Annual Passholder Facebook groups, we discovered that people were waiting outside the park as early as 1 AM.

We knew we'd be waiting in line for the bulk of the Toy Story Land unboxing day. There were four main lines in the new land: the line to enter the land; the line for Slinky Dog Dash, the new roller coaster; the line for Alien Spinning Saucers, the easier of the new rides in the land; Toy Story Mania, the (now old news) arcade-type ride; and the new quick-service restaurant, Woody's Lunchbox (complete with grilled cheese and "grown-up drinks").

Because we were so early, we did not have to wait in line to get into the land. We decided to ride Alien Spinning Saucers first. The posted wait time was 150 minutes, but my friend timed the line and we only waited for 50 minutes. Next, we tried to find the line for Slinky Dog Dash. After receiving conflicting answers, the runaround, and even an, "I don't know, good luck," from multiple Cast Members, we exited the land to find the beginning of the Slinky line. We were then told that there was only one line to enter the park that eventually broke off into the Slinky line. We were not about to wait to get back into the area we just left, so we got a Fastpass for Toy Story Mania that we didn't plan on using in order to be let into the land sooner. We still had to wait for our time, so we decided to get the exclusive Little Green Man alien popcorn bin—this took an entire hour. We then used our Fastpass to enter the land, found the Slinky line, and proceeded to wait for two and a half hours only for the ride to shut down due to rain. But we've come this far and rain was not about to stop us. We waited an hour, still in line and under a covered area, for the rain to stop. Then, we waited another hour and a half to get on the ride from there once it reopened (mainly because they prioritized people who missed their Fastpass time due to the rain). After that, we used the mobile order feature on the My Disney Experience app to skip part of the line at Woody's Lunchbox.

Did you know that there is actually a psychological science to waiting? In the hospitality industry, this science is the difference between "perceived wait" and "actual wait." A perceived wait is how long you feel like you are waiting, while the actual wait is, of course, the real and factual time you wait. There are eight things that affect the perceived wait time: unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time, pre-process waits feel longer than in-process waits, anxiety makes waits feel longer, uncertain waits are longer than certain waits, unexplained waits are longer than explained waits, unfair waits are longer than equitable waits, people will wait longer for more valuable service and solo waiting feels longer than group waiting.

Our perceived wait time for Alien Spinning Saucers was short because we expected it to be longer. Our wait for the popcorn seemed longer because it was unoccupied and unexplained. Our wait for the rain to stop so the ride could reopen seemed shorter because it was explained. Our wait between the ride reopening and getting on the coaster seemed longer because it felt unfair for Disney to let so many Fastpass holders through while more people waited through the rain. Our entire wait for Slinky Dog Dash seemed longer because we were not told the wait time in the beginning. Our wait for our food after placing a mobile order seemed shorter because it was an in-process wait. We also didn't mind wait long wait times for any of these experiences because they were new and we placed more value on them than other rides or restaurants at Disney. The people who arrived at 1 AM just added five hours to their perceived wait

Some non-theme park examples of this science of waiting in the hospitality industry would be waiting at a restaurant, movie theater, hotel, performance or even grocery store. When I went to see "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," the power went out in the theater right as we arrived. Not only did we have to wait for it to come back and for them to reset the projectors, I had to wait in a bit of anxiety because the power outage spooked me. It was only a 30-minute wait but felt so much longer. At the quick-service restaurant where I work, we track the time from when the guest places their order to the time they receive their food. Guests in the drive-thru will complain about 10 or more minute waits, when our screens tell us they have only been waiting four or five minutes. Their actual wait was the four or five minutes that we track because this is when they first request our service, but their perceived wait begins the moment they pull into the parking lot and join the line because this is when they begin interacting with our business. While in line, they are experiencing pre-process wait times; after placing the order, they experience in-process wait times.

Establishments in the hospitality industry do what they can to cut down on guests' wait times. For example, theme parks offer services like Disney's Fastpass or Universal's Express pass in order to cut down the time waiting in lines so guests have more time to buy food and merchandise. Stores like Target or Wal-Mart offer self-checkout to give guests that in-process wait time. Movie theaters allow you to check in and get tickets on a mobile app and some quick-service restaurants let you place mobile or online orders. So why do people still get so bent out of shape about being forced to wait?

On Toy Story Land unboxing day, I witnessed a woman make a small scene about being forced to wait to exit the new land. Cast Members were regulating the flow of traffic in and out of the land due to the large crowd and the line that was in place to enter the land. Those exiting the land needed to wait while those entering moved forward from the line. Looking from the outside of the situation as I was, this all makes sense. However, the woman I saw may have felt that her wait was unfair or unexplained. She switched between her hands on her hips and her arms crossed, communicated with her body language that she was not happy. Her face was in a nasty scowl at those entering the land and the Cast Members in the area. She kept shaking her head at those in her group and when allowed to proceed out of the land, I could tell she was making snide comments about the wait.

At work, we sometimes run a double drive-thru in which team members with iPads will take orders outside and a sequencer will direct cars so that they stay in the correct order moving toward the window. In my experience as the sequencer, I will inform the drivers which car to follow, they will acknowledge me and then still proceed to dart in front of other cars just so they make it to the window maybe a whole minute sooner. Not only is this rude, but it puts this car and the cars around them at risk of receiving the wrong food because they are now out of order. We catch these instances more often than not, but it still adds stress and makes the other guests upset. Perhaps these guests feel like their wait is also unfair or unexplained, but if they look at the situation from the outside or from the restaurant's perspective, they would understand why they need to follow the blue Toyota.

The truth of the matter is that your perceived wait time is always going to be longer than your actual wait time if you can't take a minute to focus on something other than yourself. We all want instant gratification, I get it. But in reality, we have to wait for some things. It takes time to prepare a meal. It takes time to experience a ride at a theme park that everyone else wants to go on. It takes time to ring up groceries. It takes patience to live in this world.

So next time you find yourself waiting, take a minute to remember the difference between perceived and actual wait times. Think about the eight aspects of waiting that affect your perceived wait. Do what you can to realize why you are waiting or keep yourself occupied in this wait. Don't be impatient. That's no way to live your life.

Cover Image Credit:

Aranxa Esteve

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How to Boost Minority Voices on College Campuses

An ideal college campus has a healthy dose of diversity that reflects the real world

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An ideal college campus has a healthy dose of diversity that reflects the real world. Unfortunately, due to cost of attendance and geographical location, most college campuses have a skewed population. Minority students sometimes struggle to feel welcome on campus – which may become detrimental to their mental, academic, and physical well-being. Non-minority students should help boost their voices on campus by understanding the social movements in which minority students follow and the issues these movements endorse. Here are two examples of very successful programs involving college students:

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter formed following the murder of the black, unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin. On February 26th, 2012, George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watchman, called 911 to report Martin's 'suspicious activity' before fatally shooting him. Uncovered evidence suggested that Zimmerman acted because he was wary of Martin's race – and not the actual threat of criminal activity. The Black Lives Matter movement gained further traction after the distressing murder of Michael Brown in 2014. Brown was shot numerous times by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. Protests erupted in Ferguson and across the United States – with followers that represent all intersections of gender, ability, citizenship and experience. "[They] are working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically targeted for demise."

The echoes of the Black Lives Matter message left an imprint on the University of Missouri football team and other student organizations, who all called for the Mizzou President Tim Wolfe's resignation. This protest followed inaction of school leaders when dealing with racial issues on campus. The football team, with their coaches' support, refused to play or practice until Wolfe stepped down. The refusal to play games could have cost the university $1 million in cancellation fees. The Missouri football team showed immense courage – risking their scholarships, academic standing, and image on a national level for a controversial but necessary cause.


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#Blacklivesmatter

Cripple Punk

Cripple Punk (or C-Punk for those uncomfortable using the slur) is a movement by the physically disabled, for the physically disabled. It was accidentally created by Tumblr user @Crpl-Pnk, or Tai/Tyler, who posted a grunge-style selfie with a cane and the words 'Cripple Punk' in the caption. The picture went viral, and so did the rejection of stereotypes. Tyler said Cripple Punk is here for the bitter cripple and the un-inspirational cripple –fighting the idea that all cripples must be wonderful people, all the time.

The movement respects all intersections of race, gender, culture, sexual/romantic orientation, size, intersex status, mental illness, neurodivergent, and survivor status. Cripple Punk recognizes that there is no universal disabled experience, and encourages followers to understand unfamiliar experiences. Participating in the activism is not conditional on things like what kind of mobility aids one uses, or how much one can 'function.' One goal of the movement is to fight internalized ableism (feelings of internalized discrimination of disabilities produced by society) They also strive to empower those currently struggling to own their disabled identity through body positivity. This allows the community to choose how they are seen, and to be unapologetically disabled.

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It is not unusual as a disabled person to feel isolated from others who share your experiences. The Internet has created a space to seek out others with similar experiences, learn from each other, and motivate each other. This online community is incredibly important, as it is often difficult for disabled people to participate in typical protests. Many cannot march because of the nature of their conditions, or the unfortunate reality that many protests are still inaccessible.


Simple ways to amplify minority voices

Following these movements is perhaps the easiest way to show support, whether it be by attending events, retweeting hashtags, or signing petitions. Rally for a more diverse faculty, multicultural centers, and more accessible counseling or tutoring services for minority students. Elect to take an ethic studies or diversity course to listen and understand other worldviews— this may be the first time you are faced with perspectives different from your own. Seek to understand the history of your institution and its potential shortcomings and rally for change with your peers whenever possible. Make your college a place that everyone would want to attend; your campus diversity starts with encouragement.

Cover Image Credit:

https://unsplash.com/photos/JHrNFqwBbig

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