by Maiana Wise –
In February, I had the opportunity to interview Ms. Liz Tabak, advisor of the Black Male Initiative (BMI), to inquire about their group’s activities and successes. BMI not only supports young African American men, but also serves as an encouraging program to build a pathway towards overall success in academic areas and professional fields. Essentially, the structure of this organization is built upon a peer mentorship program in which Freshmen are paired with Sophomore, Junior, and Senior mentors who assist in their growth at the university throughout their educational pursuits.
Tabak explains the need for this group, “African American males are at an increased risk of not completing college, so the support we offer truly makes the difference between them completing or dropping out!”
Members gain a sense of community, support, networking, leadership, and team-building through their Brotherhood Circles – in which BMI students discuss contemporary issues that affect the lives of Black males beyond the boundaries of campus, as well as within its walls. In addition, senior mentors can attend workshops to strengthen their abilities in mentoring, communication, and conflict negotiation; all the while contributing their time, knowledge, and experiences to support freshmen mentees. Students involved can also participate in a number of other activities held by BMI, including movie/sports nights and the upcoming BMI Podcasts, which offer a whole new set of experiences. Tabak states that students of any level are eligible to apply for mentorship status; although, mentees primarily consist of freshmen.
Senior Lead BMI Mentor, Clifford Shaw, addressed the many opportunities he has had from different roles of mentorship – his main focus being to engage with future students and recruit incoming members. “There are so many things that I enjoy about being a part of Black Male Initiative, but one thing that I enjoy the most about this program is mentoring and sharing my knowledge and giving advice to incoming students.”
Freshman Mentee, Devin Mantooth, also explains that through his experience, he has come to the realization of struggles that all Black males face in modern society, and the terms he must face because of them: “The biggest take away I got is that people do not expect me to succeed as a Black male, so everything I do I must think of the outcome.”
As you can see, BMI provides its members growth experiences in several of the UCO STLR tenets, but especially in Global & Cultural Competencies and Leadership. Even beyond that, hosted activities and community outreach expose them to Service Learning & Civic Engagement, the planning and presentation of topics for Brotherhood Circles contribute to Research, Creative, & Scholarly Activities, and reflecting on the importance of community and peer support relate to Health & Wellness. The Black Male Initiative is an impactful organization that provides members with growth in all areas of STLR.
These connections to STLR are not on accident. “I am an enthusiastic advocate of STLR as a member of staff. Some of the programs I have STLR-tagged aside from BMI are our Diversity Leadership Institute, Diversity Peer Leaders, and Native American Success Initiative,” said Tabak.
The Black Male Initiative is a great place to find encouragement and support in achieving overall success, despite being a minority. One constant refrain from members, is the result of deep, life-long connections that are formed between the contributing members of BMI, as exemplified by Mantooth’s comments: “Black Male Initiative is a wonderful group to bring young men together to open up to each other, network, learn about life, and overall – succeed.”
To find out more about STLR and other STLR-tagged groups and activities, visit https://stlr.uco.edu/activities.