Inner-city mentoring initiative aims to boost student achievement - The Buffalo News

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Inner-city mentoring initiative aims to boost student achievement

Elim Christian Fellowship could use a few more female mentors to work with approximately 40 girls enrolled in a life-skills training program.

College scholarships are available for marksmanship through the Dorie Miller Rifle and Pistol Club and the National Rifle Association.

And Jabriel Shareef, owner of an East Side construction business, suggests that at-risk youth shadow adult role models at their jobs or businesses. Seeing black men going to work and owning businesses could motivate the young men to achieve the same – or more – in their lives, Shareef said.

Those are just some of the opportunities already available for Buffalo students, or programs that could fill in the gaps in many students’ lives, according to community leaders who have come together under the auspices of the United Black Men’s Think Tank of Buffalo to plan a coordinated strategy for boosting academic achievement and helping young people succeed.

“Developing a Meaningful Mentoring Initiative” is being launched in a district that has only 12 of its 56 schools deemed in “good standing” by the state, even as Say Yes to Education has promised a college education to all graduates who qualify academically.

The mentoring initiative – launched earlier this month in the Alphonso “Rafi” Greene Jr. Masten Resource Center on Fillmore Avenue, with another meeting slated there for Saturday – provides an opportunity for groups and individuals to see what others are doing, what additional resources are needed and how everyone can streamline services to reach out even further.

“The idea is not to create another service organization or another project that has to have funding, a director, an accountant, an auditor. We already have 300 service organizations in our community,” said L. Nathan Hare, chairman of the think tank.

The launch drew about 30 community mentors and tutors, most representing African-American organizations or programs. “The idea is to take our acumen to try to figure out ways to go forward so we can make our community stronger,” Hare said, adding that eventually he would like to expand the program to include white students and mentors.

Hare said he has spoken with Will Keresztes, Buffalo Public Schools chief of student support services, and the hope is that eventually the district can identify “priority kids” for the program through principals at the schools. Saturday’s meeting will focus on determining the strengths of the initiative and preparing for a meeting with Kersztes.

Hare also hopes the schools will be able to provide some money to mentors to pay for activities such as attending cultural events and visiting educational institutions like museums and art galleries.

It’s important to get the mentoring initiative off the ground soon to be able to position students for the Say Yes program, said Samuel L. Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council.

“We have a guarantee that every single child can have a college education for free. Imagine graduating college with no debt,” Radford said. “But we have to get this mentoring initiative off the ground.”

Hare, for instance, wants the initiative to partner with the Dr. Charles R. Drew Science Magnet School in an adopt-a-school type program, in which tutors and mentors work closely with students.

The initial meeting produced an inventory of services and programs already offered by the groups that attended.

“We’re not trying to become the boss of somebody’s efforts. … We want to know what’s there so we can start figuring out where the gaps are, who is not getting served,” Hare said.

A variety of efforts already exist, many with openings for more students.

Elim runs a program called Girls to Women that serves 9- to 18-year-olds from the church and the larger community. Female role models and peer groups cultivate supportive relationships with the young women and work with them on things such as building confidence and leadership skills, preparing for high school and planning for college or career, Linda Hughes said. The church also runs a similar program for males, called Boys to Men.

In addition to offering scholarships, members of the East Side-based Dorie Miller gun club want to hold neighborhood safety and crime-prevention classes for young people. “We can show them safe, responsible use of firearms,” said Dorie Miller member Brent Rollins, who is also secretary of the think tank.

Since 2010, Crystal Austin-Seymore has been helping struggling students in fifth to 12th grades through her Kaleidoscope Competitions learning center. The students receive tutoring in math, reading comprehension, writing and other academic subjects to help them improve learning skills and achieve better grades. Her students have become doctors, researchers and graduated from universities such as Harvard and Brown, Austin-Seymore said, adding that she has room for 10 more young people in the program.

Pretty As A Daisy mentoring and enrichment program for girls 9 to 18 focuses on self-esteem boosting and conflict resolution, said program director Marilyn Gibson. Currently 73 girls are enrolled, and there’s room for about 15 more, Gibson said.

Minister Dahveed Muhammad of Mosque 23 of the Nation of Islam is looking to mentor young black males. He has worked with young people for years on behavior and emotional issues, and he is trying to start Closing the Gap, an alternative-to-jail initiative that would have a residential component for 18 to 25 men.

Paid and unpaid internships are available through Common Council Majority Leader Demone A. Smith, of the Masten District, said representative Frank Garland. Every year, Smith’s office provides paid internships to five or six young men and women.

“We teach them office skills, and we get out in the community to work in community gardens,” Garland said.

Garland said Smith’s office would take on some high school kids from the mentoring initiative to volunteer in the office once a week to expose them to black professionals and provide a civics lesson on how government works.

Other groups involved in the effort include Hananiah Lutheran Church, Cold Spring Church of God in Christ, Back to Basics, Stop the Violence Coalition, Buffalo United Front and MAD DADS.


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