Alpha Phi Alpha Mentors Better Men

Mentoring Program participants enthusiastically raise hands when asked, "Who wants to go to college?"

On a blustery Friday morning, inside Mr. Gentile’s social studies room, 22 middle-school boys sit patiently at their desks waiting for class to start. Yet, this morning’s lesson will not be the integrated study of the social sciences and humanities to promote civic competence, and Gentile will not be instructing. As they have for nearly four years, these scholars, selected for their leadership qualities, will be learning how to achieve higher social, economic, and intellectual status.

Under the watchful guidance of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, these youth of African-American, Middle Eastern, and Latino heritages are on a path to affirmation and becoming “better men.” They will have access to accomplished men who are dedicated to mentoring them beyond their circumstances toward enlightened and clear pathways of success.

Role Models for Minority Boys

Boys, particularly black, Latino, and other minorities, are viewed as being in a crisis due to the lack of positive male role models in their homes, schools, and communities. Census data from 2011 indicates that more than 24 million children live apart from biological fathers. While 72 percent of African-American children are reared in single-parent households, the national average is only 25 percent. Even more distressing is the stark reality that 61 percent of the US prison population is African-American and Latino. Worse still, a mere 2 percent of schoolteachers are African-American males. Although studies show that black male teachers promote diversity among teaching workforces, and all cultures benefit from their presence at the head of the class, many are leaving the profession.

Alphas and Positive Peer Pressure

Since 2013 the Omicron Lambda Alpha chapter has been a consistent presence at the Center City Public Charter School in Shaw. Through its Go-To-High-School Go-To-College initiative it is mentoring boys once a week, teaching them life skills, conflict resolution, how to complete the high school application process, making career choices, and developing a life plan. Principal Brandy Tyson calls the mentoring program a thriving partnership.  

Established on December 4, 1906, at Cornell University, Alpha Phi Alpha was the first of the historic Divine 9 black Greek letter organizations (BGLOs). Forty-three years after the emancipation of slaves, African-Americans were still struggling to improve their socioeconomic and political power. For former slaves and descendants, the emergence of black-owned businesses and institutions of higher learning quickly became the means to success and prosperity. To stimulate and aid the ambitions of collegiate African-American males, the fraternity, affectionately called the Ice Cold Brothers, created a brotherhood of positive peer pressure governing the manner, behavior, and deeds of its members. It grew into 200 chapters and over 200,000 members nationwide.

Across many college campuses and in political arenas, business boardrooms, and diverse communities of color and ethnicities, Alphas are revered gentlemen radiating charm, intellect, respect, and high distinction among peers. Notable Alpha Phi Alpha men include W.E.B. DuBois, Thurgood Marshall, Paul Robeson, Martin Luther King Jr., and former DC Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr.

“How many of you want to go to college?” Every young hand in the room rocketed in the air. Kelly Gilmore, an Alpha brother and one of four (others were James Wright, Michael Taylor, and Emerson Bretous) facilitating this morning’s session, tasked each student to write two sentences describing their ideas of college life.

The responses were typical but thoughtful. Sports, parties, flexible schedules, and an option to explore any field of their own choosing were favorites, yet the recurring themes were the opportunity to become better men who would make better communities for themselves and others.

Kevion Scurry, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, plans to attend Duke Ellington School of Arts and later Ohio State University on a football scholarship. He appreciates his mentors for showing him how to make eye contact when speaking to others, talking and acting appropriately, and being respectful to women.

Two years ago, while 11-year-old Devontae Gliss and his mother were enjoying a Memorial Day cookout, another young man was playing with a gun, and Gliss’s mother became its unintended fatality. Gliss, who still struggles to recall that tragic day, says the Alpha brothers surrounded him with love and “made sure I was on the right path.”

Every Friday, with affirmation and affection from the Alpha brothers, inside Mr. Gentile’s social studies class, boys are becoming better men for a better future.

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