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Participants of Black Male Achievement Summer Youth Experience, 2016 (Courtesy of BMA Portland)
By Melanie Sevcenko | The Skanner News
Published: 10 August 2017

Black Male Achievement Portland is hosting a community event on Saturday, Aug. 12 to gather input on how to attract mentors for young Black men and boys.

Under Portland’s Office of Equity and Human Rights, BMA works to assist and hold accountable city leaders and community stakeholders in their efforts to boost outcomes for male Black youth.

Its strength is in its numbers, with over 20 regional organizations represented by Black men that form the BMA Portland umbrella. The group’s primary work focuses on breaking down barriers to education, employment, family stability and criminal justice.

To accomplish its mission, the organization – a local faction of the national BMA – advocates for changes in policy and programs, highlights disparities, and works to create awareness to improve the realities for vulnerable African American men and boys.

This summer 50 young Black males had a chance to participate in BMA’s Summer Youth Experience, a collaboration with Worksystems and the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization. The program took participants inside professional environments across multiple industries, including city hall, the advertising agency Wieden + Kennedy, Nike, and ZGF Architects.

For six weeks, the young men participated in culturally-specific exercises focused on building social and emotional intelligence, and engaged in discussions with professionals on how to navigate the workplace as Black men.

Saturday’s youth-led summit at Unthank Park is a culmination of their efforts. The capstone event, called ‘No Role Models,’ was organized by the young program participants and will welcome professionals and community members for an afternoon of panels and entertainment centered on brotherhood.

“The goal is to highlight what mentorship looks like for Black men and boys, and how do we get more mentors,” said C.J. Robbins, head of BMA Portland. “The young men chose the title, ‘No Role Models,’ to intentionally be provocative to really get folks thinking, and also challenge them to question themselves. Are they doing enough as individuals?”

According to Tony Hopson, CEO of Self Enhancement Inc., community members could be doing more. “People just don’t show up,” he said. “We need more outreach to places where we think mentors are. I don’t think enough of them are going to knock on your door and say, I want to be a mentor. You need to knock on their door.”

“We have a number of Black men in professional roles across this city and county, but they’re not being asked to be role models,” continued Hopson. “You got to have a strategy or a vehicle for those things to happen.”

Robbins agrees. He said it’s not mentors that are at a lack, but rather connectivity.

“There’s enough human capital, when it comes to mentors, so our goal needs to be in bringing the systems together, aligning them, and really highlighting best practices when working with young Black men and boys.”

‘No Role Models,’ as part of BMA’s Summer Youth Experience, takes place on Aug. 12, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at Unthank Park, 510 N. Shaver St. It is open to the public.  


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