Campus group encourages, unifies black male students

Courtney Lewis

Even though Sam Adegoke is only a freshman at the University, he has already found a sense of belonging in a group that was rejuvenated just last year.

Through the African-American Learning Resource Center’s My Brother’s Keeper program, Adegoke said he found a place where he can speak about issues that concern him.

“(The group) acts as unification of young black males on campus,” Adegoke said.

Cedric Bolton, an education specialist and the group’s leader, said when he joined the AALRC staff a little over a year ago, his first goal was to bring back MBK. The Man-to-Man program was started in 1993 by AALRC director Tony Diggs but faded in 1998.

“The group is unique because it’s a diverse group of brothers,” Bolton said. “We have some interesting dialogues.”

Through events such as barbecues and guest speakers, members like Adegoke get the opportunity to discuss the problems and issues they face each day. Bolton said the discussions act as a forum to share different ideologies.

When Tony Diggs first began the program, there were 22 members. Of the original pioneers, Diggs said, 19 of the 22 have graduated.

Currently, the group has 75 male members, but Bolton said the group is also open to women’s perspectives.

“One of the unique things about this group is that they really bond,” Diggs said. “And bonding creates a sense of community.”

But Diggs views the program as only one solution to retaining black men at the University. He said a strong support base is especially important for black males and still needs strengthening at the University.

“We need to keep them interested in something, and that will increase the retention rate,” Bolton said.

He also said that it’s the community’s responsibility to keep people of African descent on campus. By creating a welcoming and supportive environment, Bolton said, black men would be more inclined to make graduation a goal.

Bolton said the challenge for groups like MBK is to encourage black men to succeed. He said many young black men living in urban areas do not expect to live past 24, so they don’t strive to obtain a degree.

Bolton said he hopes MBK can help change that belief.

“When I turned 25, I cried because I lived longer than I thought possible,” said Bolton, who attended East Side High School in New Jersey – the school made famous by the film “Lean on Me.”

“I try to give (the men) empowerment through the success of my life experience,” Bolton said.

One of Bolton’s favorite events was a re-enactment of the historic underground railroad experience, when men and women trudged through the fields of Camp Sunrise in Rush City last fall.

The re-enactment’s goal was to help students connect with their history, which Bolton said he feels is important for all ethnically diverse people.

When Diggs first started the group, he said, his aim was to give black men a chance to talk about family, social and academic issues. He said MBK has provided that freedom.

“It’s been a forum – a support system to guide African-American males,” Diggs said.

He said he hopes the support group will give members an appreciation for one another and will foster a new mentality.

“If we’re committed to this,” Diggs said, “we’re looking at a paradigm change.”

By encouraging black male students to stay in school and be persistent, Diggs said he feels MBK has made a difference.

“MBK is a hidden gem,” Diggs said.

Bolton said he hopes the program will facilitate student involvement in many different life experiences. He said along with an education, positive experiences accessorize a college career.

“Sometimes you get distracted – you party, you hang out,” Bolton said. “Unless you have discipline, you won’t be as successful.”

Once students seek out guidance in MBK, Bolton said, he connects them to other students and professors to help administer direction.

For Adegoke, who will travel abroad with two other members, MBK has offered positive connections and created new friendships.

“We’re trying to do big things,” he said.