By Sam P.K. Collins | The Washington Informer | Word In Black
(WIB) – Since establishing a presence in D.C. Public Schools, the Becoming A Man (BAM) program has allowed young men in at least five schools to form positive relationships with one another while gleaning wisdom from Black male professionals.
An important element of this program involves intergenerational conversations where the high school students speak candidly with their older counterparts about aspects of the Black male experience.
At Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, a dozen young men recently took part in this activity with DCPS Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee and BAM affiliates from D.C. and Chicago. For a couple hours on March 22, they sat in a circle, watched an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and discussed how the themes in that episode resonated with them.
In Season 4, Episode 24 of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the main character Will, who’s played by Will Smith, is visited by his estranged father Lou, played by Ben Vereen. Against the wishes of his uncle, played by the late James Avery, Will spends time with Lou and becomes hopeful that they’ll make up for 14 years of Lou’s absence.
However, Lou disappoints Will, who’s then left wondering, in an iconic, heart-wrenching scene, why his father doesn’t love him.
Aidan Lee, a sophomore at Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, said that episode of Fresh Prince of Bel-Air resonated with him as a young man who, after losing touch with his father, got to make up for lost time early on in life.
Aidan, who’s in BAM for a second year, said some of his peers often don’t get the same opportunity, and that manifests in how they view the world. “The lesson I learned is to have integrity when it comes to your emotions and actions,” Aidan said as he reflected on the screening and subsequent conversation. “[It’s also about] learning what to prioritize, being accountable and not taking things for granted. The dialogue was very open. I was comfortable sharing out in that mix of elders and peers. It gave me more comfortable and confident feelings.”
What Is BAM?
BAM, in conjunction with The Fellowship Initiative and JPMorgan Chase, has conducted programming for students at Ron Brown, H.D. Woodson High School, and Eastern High School, all of which are in Northeast, along with Ballou High School in Southeast, and Paul Laurence Dunbar High School and Roosevelt High School in Northwest.
As of November, 226 young men are enrolled in the program. Participation is expected to reach 400 within the next three years.
The collaboration with The Fellowship Initiative allows for a focus on the exploration of college and career opportunities. Circle conversations relate to the socioemotional aspect of the program through which the young participants analyze their feelings and learn about similar hurdles their older male counterparts had to endure.
The Importance of Opening Up
Rasheem Rooke, executive director of Youth Guidance DC, a local nonprofit that established the Fellowship Initiative with JPMorgan Chase, said that students benefited from seeing the chancellor and other adult men in a different light.
“In the circle, titles get left at the door and it gives students a chance to see adults’ human side,” Rooke said. “The most important piece for this group is to see life drawn from their experiences to our experiences. Nothing is new under the sun. We have to find a way to utilize these resources.”
The American Counseling Association estimates that 40% of Black male teenagers suffer from persistent sadness and feelings of hopelessness, with nearly one out of four seriously considering suicide. On the education front, the D.C. Policy Center found two years ago that 14 percent of high school graduates who enter college could expect to obtain their degree within six years.
BAM counts among a bevy of offerings DCPS students can access to tackle socioemotional and academic issues. Last year, several District schools, including Dunbar and Cardozo High School, entered a redesign process through which students and community members can imagine and execute their ideal academic experience.
In speaking about these offerings, Ferebee expressed a desire to connect young people, and young men in particular, to opportunities where they explore their entrepreneurial interests and learn financial literacy. He went on to say that participating in the dialogue at Ron Brown College Preparatory High School allowed him to connect with the young men on a deeper level.
“Students might look at us like we got it figured out but we don’t. We’re just being honest and transparent about what it means to improve and work toward the best version of yourself, acknowledging your failures and fears,” Ferebee said. “Becoming A Man came before the pandemic and it couldn’t have been at a better time. We have an entrepreneurial spirit in our young people who think about what they want to do when they grow up.”