Building a Pipeline to Opportunity

Imagine you find yourself inside the main hall of an enormous convention center.  As you give a full 360 degree scan of the room, you see a sea of beaming Black and Brown faces smiling in unified joy, Black and Brown hands clapping in celebration and Black and Brown voices shouting in euphoria.  If you recently found yourself engulfed in such a large mass of colorful jubilation, you, like me, were probably attending the 3rd Annual New York State My Brother’s Keeper (NYSMBK) Symposium which took place on Friday, May 31st 2019 in Albany.  It was truly a physical manifestation of the #PowerofRelationships. 

Assembled inside the main convention hall of the Empire State Plaza were hundreds of members representing the growing network of New York State’s 23 grant funded MBK and 7 Tribal Nations communities – a cross sector of educators, administrators, community stakeholders and elected officials, gathered together in visible support of our boys and young men of color (BYMOC).  Dignitaries in attendance included NYS Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, a Bronx native, NYSED’s Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, Chancellor of NYS Board of Regents Betty Rosa as well as Dr. Lester Young Jr, state Regent and Chair of the NYS Workgroup to Improve Outcomes for BYMOC.

You could scour the nation and I believe you would be hard pressed to find such a high level of financial, political, social and educational commitment to BYMOC comparable to the last three years in NY.  New York remains the sole state in the union to have a statewide MBK strategy with a budget enacted into state law to the tune of nearly $19 million.  There was plenty to celebrate as a statewide movement – NYSMBK grew from 5 to 23 MBK communities and 7 Tribal Nations in three short years.  Approximately 500,000 preK to college students have been served through NYSMBK grants.  And the symposium itself has seen overall attendance blossom from 250 1st year attendees in 2016 to 900 plus attendees this past May. 

Despite all of these noteworthy accomplishments, there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done if NYSMBK is going to fulfill our mission to make demonstrative improvements to the life outcomes of our boys and young men.  Here’s some data to consider:

  • NYS high school graduation for BYMOC is approximately 67% (Source:  US Department of Education). 

  • African American enrollment at the State University of NY’s (SUNY) Community Colleges has decreased by nearly 10% between 2012 and 2017 (Source:  SUNY System Administration, Office of Institutional Research). 

  • In 2018, the unemployment rate in NYC for people aged 18 to 24 was 9.4 percent, more than twice as high as the rate for all other workers (3.8 percent) (Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey; OSC analysis).    

When taking into account the theme for this year’s symposium – Building Pipelines to Opportunity, I have always took a particular interest in mentoring as a pipeline for our BYMOC.  Now in my last post, I shared how the #PowerofRelationships in schools has tremendous benefits related to a child’s cognitive development, sense of belonging, self-efficacy, productivity and effort in the classroom.  Mentoring amplifies those benefits research has shown for years now.  For instance, we know effective mentorships can restore youth’s confidence in the possibility of having positive relationships with adults and thus improve a young person’s social awareness and relationship skill building.  Effective mentoring strengthens the mentee’s social networks.  Students who meet regularly with their mentors are 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school and 37% less likely to skip a class (Source:  MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership).   

                Despite this knowledge, we are in the midst of a severe mentoring gap across the country.  Of the 46 million young people aged 8 - 18 living in America, 16 million of them are growing up without a mentor.  That's one out of every three young people who, outside of their family at home, don't have a trusted adult who they believe they can turn to for advice and guidance (Source:  MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership and The Corporation of National and Community Service).  The cause for concern is only exacerbated when we isolate Black and Brown youth.  Today’s youth of color are disproportionately disconnected from a mentor.  One national study put the national rate of disconnection at 21.6 percent for Black youth, 20.3 percent for Native Americans, and 16.3 percent for Latinx – significantly higher than the rate for Asian Americans (7.9 percent) or Whites (11.3 percent) (Lewis & Burd-Sharps, 2015).

Thankfully, the City University of New York (CUNY), the public university system of New York City and the largest urban university system in the United States (24 total campuses), began to address this troubling data with the advent of its CUNY Black Male Initiative (BMI).  According to its website, BMI is a University-wide student development initiative with more than 30 projects focused on increasing matriculation, retention and graduation rates of underrepresented students, particularly men of color.  To fulfill this mission, BMI offers members support services such as peer to peer mentoring and social emotional programming. 

Unfortunately, CUNY continues to struggle with its diversity recruitment and retention efforts when targeting historically underrepresented groups.  

  • As of Fall 2017, Black males only represented 8.5% of the total undergraduate enrollment at CUNY’s 4 year Colleges – in 2005 (BMI’s first year), Black male enrollment was at 9.5%.

  • Black and Hispanic men combined represent less than 11% of the CUNY graduate schools’ population

  • The average First Year Retention Rate for BMI Black and Hispanic males pursuing an Associate’s degree hovered around 67% while non-BMI Black and Hispanic males pursuing a Bachelor’s were retained at approximately 81% (Fall 2010 – 2014). 

In order to address CUNY’s diversity enrollment problem, BMI needs to begin building relationships with its target audience much earlier in the recruitment pipeline.  Rather than waiting for these young men to come to them, I propose BMI goes directly to the source, starting with NYC public and charter high schools, and establish a mentoring pipeline beginning in the 9th grade.  This pipeline would essentially bridge the gap between 9th grade and college enrollment leading eventually to either a career pathway or the pursuit of an advanced graduate degree.  These bridges would be built through a Peer Mentoring model and a vast network of professional men of color from the greater NYC area willing to strengthen our BYMOC’s social capital.

In conclusion, I believe such a mentoring initiative not only benefits CUNY’s recruitment efforts, but it also builds a pipeline to opportunity and a supportive community during critical phases of a young man’s development.  For BYMOC, many face an uncertain transition to adulthood at an age when their adult identities, experiences, and skills are developing.  Mentoring can be one of their pathways to success, helping them successfully navigate the transition from school to work and from childhood to adulthood (Source:  MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership (2016). Guide to Mentoring Boys and Young Men of Color, Sponsored by My Brother’s Keeper Alliance).  Lastly, the benefits of mentoring aren’t one sided.  Mentors are able to expand their personal and professional networks, especially when mentoring in groups like the pipeline proposes.  Mentors can hone key life skills such as active listening, empathy, leadership development and people management.  And mentors can also deepen their sense of purpose while uplifting their mood in real time simply by lending their time and attention to just one young person.  The one young person who just might change the entire world for the better.


If your school or district is interested in building pipelines to opportunity for your young people, be sure to complete the form below for a free consultation. Looking forward to building pipelines with you!

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