Concerned Black Men (CBM) Program Manager Lance Dennis sat at a table Tuesday in the multipurpose room at Montera Middle School going over his lesson plan for the day.
Every Tuesday and Thursday for 45 minutes, Dennis mentors sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-grade boys with weekly life skills sessions that also address career exploration.
Currently, there are about 15 boys enrolled in the program at each grade level, attending weekly group sessions that address etiquette, healthy eating, exercise, and community service projects.
The program has outside funding and does not cost the school or parents anything to participate.
“We were looking for a school that matched our mission, and Principal Tina Tranzor was very receptive to what we are doing,” said Dennis. “Some of these students are dealing with issues that many adults have to face like domestic disturbances. So we want to empower them and make positive impacts on their lives.”
Mentors are required to attend the initial orientation and training after submitting an application. The mentors also participate in weekly trainings at least twice a month.
The way the project is organized, a mentor follows 6th grade students when they graduate and supports them for four years as they transition to high school.
“The program is a commitment, so after the students graduate, we keep track of their progress going into high school and analyze the data,” said Saleem Shakir, a founding member of the Oakland chapter of Concerned Black Men.
“This research helps us determine what can be improved and what has had an impact on the students,” he said.
In Tuesday’s lesson plan, Dennis taught about the importance of listening and classroom rules. He asked the boys to come up with their own set of rules.
After the list was complete, Dennis printed out a copy for each student and asked them to sign it. The student-proposed rules included one person speaking at a time, respecting oneself and others, and no profanity.
Concerned Black Men is a national program, originally founded in 1975 by Philadelphia police officers who sponsored social events for kids at risk to gang violence and wanted to promote positive Black male role models by providing mentors and programs for academic and career enrichment.
The mentoring program takes students to monthly enrichment activities designed to expose them to opportunities in and outside their communities, including trips to museums, Angel Island and San Francisco.
The program also has a parent support system, designed to support students’ academic achievement and address parenting skill challenges during the year.
Shakir says the Oakland Chapter of CBM is looking for more mentors and hopes to have more than 100 volunteers by the end of next year.
“I see many policy papers and retreats, but I’m more concerned with what the direct impact is for these students,” said Shakir. “Mentorship is an evidence-based practice, and the more input we have from volunteers, the more effective we can be.”