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The Ties That Bind: African-American Seniors Support Younger Boys Through Connections, Necktie Lesson

Club Empowers Middle School Boys Through Support, Direction

Kelloggsville High School senior Marcus Dumas remembers looking up to his brother and other older students when he was in middle school. Their positive influence helped him stay motivated.

“I am the man I am today from talking to high-school students,” said Marcus, who is attending Calvin College in the fall to pursue an engineering degree.

He and two other accomplished Kelloggsville High School seniors Hasani Hayden and Austin Jackson spent an afternoon just days before their May graduation visiting Kelloggsville Middle School boys in the Empowering Males Club to help them set the course for future success.

Austin is attending Grace Bible College next year on a basketball scholarship, and Hasani is headed to Harvard University to focus on finance and economics.

Sixth-grader Jayson Featherstone adjusts his tie
Sixth-grader Jayson Featherstone adjusts his tie

“In a few years, they will be us. They are going to be in the same position that we are,” Marcus said, about meeting with the boys. “If we don’t set an example, that’s basically planning for failure. We definitely don’t want that to happen. When I was in middle school, high-school students came and talked to me, and now I want to give back.”

Hasani said he could have benefited from older role models.

“When I was coming out of middle school, I didn’t have any high school role models directly to look to,” he said. “I think that would have only helped me solidify myself as a man and helped my find my identity. Because I didn’t have that, it was a bumpy road, though I still came out OK. I’m hoping they can start out strong, and I hope they chase their dreams.”

Life Lessons

Be respectful and responsible, they told the nine sixth- and seventh-grade students in the Empowering Males Club. Come to school prepared. Carry yourself well. Build relationships with your teachers.

Dean of Students Eric Alcorn and middle-school teacher Kelly Hammontree started the after-school club his spring to give African American boys a place to connect outside of the classroom and with each other in a positive way. The boys learn valuable skills, work to envision successful futures, and build confidence, Alcorn said.

Austin, Hasani and Marcus shared their stories with the boys about successes and missteps along their way through school. They said they had to learn tough lessons, but overcoming adversity was worth it.

Model for Young Men’s Empowerment Program

  • Small-group sessions of 3–10 students led by black men.
  • One-to-one mentoring with a black male adult for individual students who especially need guidance.
  • Opportunities to meet and spend time with black male college students, including visits to a college campus.
  • Opportunities to meet and spend time with successful black men in their work environment through partnerships with specific companies and agencies.
  • Having black men in positions of political leadership meet with students at the school, as well as allowing students to visit them in their local offices.
  • Dress for Success days. If it is not practical to have all students dress professionally every Monday, as we did in my school, you can set aside special Dress for Success days and treat them as celebrations.
  • After-school male study groups, in which students with specific interests discuss those interests—for example, learning about black historical figures.

Source: Baruti Kafele

Working hard now will give you great options in the future, Austin told the group.

“You guys, you know, you can do it too,” Austin said, about his success in school and sports. “I was in these same classroom and walked down the same hallways… Work hard, you’ll get it. If it’s worth getting, it’s going to be hard.”

They also took time to teach a valuable skill they can use throughout their lives: how to tie a necktie.

Getting Boys Involved

Alcorn started a similar boys group in Muskegon, where he previously worked as dean. The groups are modeled after the Young Men’s Empowerment Program started by Principal Baruti Kafele at Newark Tech High School in Essex County, New Jersey.

Students meet every other Monday to focus on goal-setting, behavior and respect, and to learn “how to be an adult male.” They look at their grades and focus on improvement.

Alcorn and Hammontree saw a need for African-American boys to be involved in a group. Many were slipping through the cracks.

“One of the biggest things we want is for them to have a bigger purpose. We were mainly looking for kids who were kind of just are going through the day and the motions,” Alcorm said.

Looking Toward the Future

Since the club began, students’ grades and behavior have improved.

Sixth-grader Isaiah Rochet said he’s realized what success means.

“We learned the difference between good and bad and to succeed and to fail,” he said.

“It made me want to succeed even more.”

“They gave us information about how to survive in life and to be successful and to be a good person,” said seventh-grader Justin Jackson. “My grades used to be real bad, like Es and Ds. Now they are As, Bs and Cs. My goal is to stay good, don’t get in trouble and keep my grades up.”

Kelloggsville Dean of Students Eric Alcorn helps sixth grader Micaus Gonzalez with his tie
Kelloggsville Dean of Students Eric Alcorn helps sixth grader Micaus Gonzalez with his tie

Seventh-grader Zion Jackson said he’s also improved.

“It has changed my grades and my actions outside of school,” he said “You need to get your work done. My goal is to be an artist and a football player.”

Alcorn said meeting seniors will have even more significance than learning from adults.

“Hearing it from students who go to school across the street has a bigger impact than anything I, or any adult, can say,” he said.

The seniors shared words of advice.

“Believe in yourself. Believe in each other. Believe in the student you can and will become,” Marcus said.

Seventh-grader Justin Jackson practices tying
Seventh-grader Justin Jackson practices tying

“Don’t let yesterday determine your tomorrow,” said Hasani.

“Change the way you’re acting. Improve. Get better every day. Athletic-wise, academic-wise, maturity-level wise. Always improve, always get better and keep on working toward greatness.”


Empowering Young Black Males

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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