In America, African Americans have the highest poverty rate at 27.4 percent, followed closely by Hispanics, who have a 26.6 percent poverty rate. Research has shown that poverty is a major threat to a child’s well-being. Children who grow up in poverty from a young age face economic and educational disadvantages and are therefore less likely to receive a high school diploma, making it harder to obtain a job. These children not only face challenges economically, but they are also affected by social and cultural misconceptions. Mentoring boys and young men of color is vital to making changes in a community and creating opportunities they never knew were available to them. The following are unique challenges that these individuals face and ways to change these struggles into positive, life-changing opportunities.
Absence of a father figure
More than 10 million Black and Hispanic children in the U.S. live in a home without a father. Often referred to as the “Father Factor,” statistics point to the idea that growing up without a father figure can lead to a life of poverty, crime, and substance abuse. Negative outcomes do not have to be consistent with fatherless homes and statistics do not have to dictate the future of young men’s lives. The presence and positive engagement of parents and other caring adults such as relatives, teachers, pastors, and coaches, will make the greatest difference for young men living without a father.
Stressing the importance of an adult role model in a young man’s life is crucial. An ideal role model embodies certain traits that young men want to emulate, inspiring them to make changes in their own lives. Modeling behaviors of confidence, respect, hard work, and moral values will help to set a good foundation for future endeavors. Young men that are looking to apply for jobs or college in the future will need references and having solid role models that know their character and can attest to it will be extremely beneficial. Clubs, after school programs or athletics at school or youth groups at church are great ways to get involved and develop positive, lasting, and life-changing relationships.
Young men of color are continually stereotyped as having one, or a combination of the following attributes: threatening, dangerous, drug-involved, disrespectful, withdrawn, or unmotivated. Such stereotypes stem from the media, movies, and TV shows that portray African Americans and Hispanics involved in gangs, violence, and substance abuse. For a lot of viewers, such perceptions are all they have to go off of. These misconceptions are not only harmful to their image but also inhibit opportunities that would have otherwise been available. For this reason, it is crucial to foster an accurate, positive perception about young men of color and to change harmful stereotypes.
Encouraging these individuals to embrace their true identities and showcase their talents is a great way to achieve this. For example, individuals who love to write or create lyrics can join writing clubs and enter writing competitions. Those who like to sing can get involved in choirs at school or church or can form their own group. These young men can’t do it on their own though. Since the outside world has developed, and held on to negative stereotypes, communities need to work together to change that. By skipping judgement and focusing on getting to know young men, communities might realize that they have a great deal of untapped potential.Mentors can get the ball rolling by connecting these young men to clubs in the area and encourage communities to start groups.
College Graduation is Inconceivable
Over the years, major improvements have been made for the success of high school students. From 1990 to 2014, the status high school dropout rates of 16- to 24-year-olds has gone down significantly. This rate declined from 13.2 percent to 7.4 percent for black youth and from 32.4 percent to 10.6 percent for Hispanic youth. In 2014, the Bureau of Labor Statistics saw the highest number of college enrollment for black high school graduates since it first started tracking data. A whopping 70.9 percent enrolled in college that year as compared to 67.3 percent white enrollees. While these numbers show great progress for young men of color, they still face many hurdles.
The financial aspect of attending college is a major burden that the majority of college students face. Not knowing or understanding financial aid and scholarship options can prevent students from making it to graduation. Another major hurdle is time. It isn’t uncommon for college students to work a full-time job while in college to make ends meet. A full-time or even a part-time course load can require a lot of time and dedication in order to achieve good grades. Maintaining a job and an education at the same time can feel next to impossible. When weighing the options, a full-time job that provides an income now is more appealing than an education that does not provide instant gratification.
Many of these hurdles can be solved with sufficient planning. Young minorities need to have better access to college planning opportunities so that they are made aware of success strategies. A thorough review of scholarships could mean thousands of tuition dollars saved. Decoding the intricacies of financial aid for these young men could mean a world of difference for their future. Institutional leaders can also play a crucial role for minorities by being mindful of their progress and show support and guidance in their journey.
Connecting young men of color with positive outcomes can be incredibly life-changing not only for the mentor, but also for the mentee. Involving communities and encouraging participation help to show a level of commitment that was missing before.