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Awareness Black Teens Education

The New 300

The 300MENri Leadership Academy is a venture sponsored by #300MENri, a community-based men’s group in Providence, Rhode Island, as part of the group’s promotion of positive male development.

As members of the community, we at #300MENri felt as though many of us had been neglecting our role in raising our boys and in demanding greatness from them. It was no longer an option to sit by and watch, so we began an initiative that would uplift and empower young boys on multiple fronts. As #300MENri is only about a year old, the group originally looked to existing development programs for teenage boys of color, such as the Gilbert Stuart Gentlemen Association and the Dr. Jorge Alvarez Gentlemen Academy, and brought those programs under its umbrella.

I founded the Gilbert Stuart Gentlemen Association four years ago as a way to engage young men in middle school and provide a safe space for them to communicate their world to a trusting adult. Some of these young men were very influential in school, but not always in the most positive ways.

The group began as an informal gathering in the back of the cafeteria, but it has now become a more formal group of boys whose mission is focused on higher education, personal discipline, and high academic achievement. Although some structure has been provided, in many ways, students are encouraged to take charge of the group and run the program as they see fit.

As an African-American teacher and a male of color in the school, and one of four males of color overall, I felt almost obligated in a way to create a space where my male students could be themselves without fear of reprimand or being misinterpreted, as is often the case, which usually leads to suspensions, expulsions, issues with police, etc., eventually on a pathway to prison. I just felt like I needed to do something. That something happened to be this boys group.

I believe that it is never too early to prepare for higher education and for life, so we encourage academic competition, personal responsibility, and service to others. We push for excellent leadership practice with our members. Our students take part in leadership workshops, college visits, and community service events throughout the year. We also require our members to attend Saturday School to receive tutoring and to provide other social and academic services to them.

All of our efforts have been paying off. For instance, students’ self-esteem has been improving and so have their grades. The boys have near-perfect attendance, they participate more actively in school, and perhaps the biggest accomplishment of our program is the fact that we have managed to connect families who are heavily invested in the success of these boys. We also have young men who can clearly articulate their goals and are working to achieve them.

As the boys move on to high school, they usually keep the group together. For me, this is great news. It is going to be time again to recruit a new 6th grade class and begin another three year journey, but I would like to be in these young men’s lives for as long as they allow me.

As a part of our program, we organize college visits, academic tutoring, after-school snacks, uniforms, and other needs. If you’d like to donate, please do so online at gofundme.com/b45si4.

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By Richlieu Norris

Richlieu Norris is native of Monrovia, Liberia. A high school guidance counselor at Dr. Jorge Alvarez High School in Providence, Rhode Island, Rich is also a college adviser and a social studies teacher.