The full potential of boys and young men of color remains unrealized.
Boys of color are far less likely to enter kindergarten with the basic language and literacy skills that are necessary for success. Disproportionate numbers of African American young men are involved in the criminal justice system. Only 59% of black males graduate from high school —compared to 80% of white males.
In 2014, the Obama administration established the My Brother’s Keeper Task Force to address these challenges. “By focusing on the critical challenges, risk factors, and opportunities for boys and young men of color at key life stages, we can improve their long-term outcomes and ability to contribute to the Nation’s competitiveness, economic mobility and growth, and civil society,” said President Obama.
In this vein, the task force established The My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Success Mentors Initiative — with 10 initial participating cities — earlier this year. Mentors consist of people already linked to the school (e.g. coaches, administrative staff, teachers, security guards, AmeriCorps volunteers, tutors, after-school providers, faith-based leaders and college students). The research is clear— the model yields significant reductions in chronic absenteeism by 18% and increases the likelihood that students will remain in school by 53%.
And yet, while the initiative has granted a growing number of black boys access to mentors, there are more ‘unmatched’ youth who could benefit from having a mentor. This unmet need constitutes the mentoring gap, and recruiting black men to serve as mentors is challenging, according to a report published by United Way.
How To Close The Gap
We Are Marcus is a virtual, on-demand character development platform targeting young men of color that seeks to close this gap and reduce barriers to access. “We built We Are Marcus to address rapid dropout rates and underachievement of young black men in schools throughout the country,” said Founder and CEO Christopher King. “Mentor organizations are currently limited by time and capacity. Our dynamic vision leverages technology in a way that mentoring organizations have not tapped into,” he added.
We are Marcus is currently in the prototype and product development stage. The model provides access through a digital interface. “We’ve found that students feel more comfortable, more quickly and more open to reflecting on their own lives without judgment in this format. Anyone who has worked in a classroom will agree. Technology is the way we keep our kids engaged,” said King. This model is also more efficient, mainly because it eliminates in-person barriers such as scheduling conflicts and matching limitations.
During the initial phase of marketization, King will introduce the service to target schools, youth enrichment and mentorship programs. During the second phase of expansion, he will expand to juvenile rehabilitation center and other unconventional targets. When asked why he is committed to closing the mentorship gap and enriching the lives of young men of color, King concluded, “I am a mentee. My mentor has a profound effect on my life. I would not be where I am today building widespread character development lessons if it wasn’t for him. It is my responsibility to pay it forward.”
Jared Brown currently coordinates a $25 million initiative at the United Negro College Fund (UNCF) designed to cultivate the next generation of African American innovators and entrepreneurs. He also serves as operations director at Black upStart, an early stage social enterprise that supports entrepreneurs through the ideation and customer validation processes. His commentary on issues related to workforce development, broadly, and black entrepreneurship, specifically, has been published by Black Enterprise, the Center for American Progress and the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.