By Kiarra Solomon
Amidst all of the national attention surrounding violence against black males and our legal system’s response to it, Black America has shifted its focus, at least momentarily, to demanding justice for those who have lost their lives and that “the system” unlearn the techniques and preconceived notions about Black males that have been the cause of these untimely deaths.
Others have argued that there is a need for Black males and the black community to deal with the internal issues, such as Black on Black violence, low education and even lower civic engagement rates.
But while political pundits are arguing on national newscasts about which issue is the real one, there have been micro-movements breaking out all across America, and working to transform the landscape.
There is a constant flow of people in and out of the small hallway. Conversations are interrupted by outbursts of laughter or pounding knocks at the door. Small crowds of people are gathering in the lobby of Community College’s Winette Student Life Center. But there are no rallies, protests or die-ins here. This is the college’s Center for Male Engagement.
The mission of the Center for Male Engagement at The Community College of Philadelphia is to provide academic and non-academic support to the schools diverse black male population with the hopes of improving African American male matriculation rates at Community College. The biggest obstacle that Program Director Derrick Perkins and his team face, however, starts long before the students ever get to his office door. CME has students who come from a wide variety of backgrounds and situations, from the recent high school graduates, to ex-offenders seeking to reenter society through higher education.
“We might have a recent high school graduate test at a 6th or 7th grade reading level, but they just got a diploma. That’s tough to explain”, said Perkins. “The one thing that I tell my guys is that who you were or what you did before doesn’t matter here. We aren’t judging you based on your past. We want our men to look at where they are now, and what they have to do to get to where they want to be. When a man walks in this door, he gets treated with love and respect. This is a safe space.”
Perkins’ goal at CME is to help young men change first change their own perspectives, so that they can ultimately influence their communities, and transform the landscape there. This can be a challenging task.
“Unfortunately, a lot of our men are apathetic to what’s happening right now in our country because they feel like it’s the way things have always been. Also because of whatever obstacles they have to face in order to get here. Some of them are being tempted by the streets. Some of them have children they need to provide for. And we expect them to come here and focus on school.”
Robert Hudson, is a second-year student at Community College and has been a member of CME during those two years. The 38 -year- old ex-offender is on his way to obtaining a degree in Computer Science, but has also committed to being a mentor in his community. “I did a significant amount of time in prison, and when I came home I knew I needed to make a change. Going to college has been like a road to redemption for me. I was always apprehensive about going to college. I grew up in Philly, lived right down the street from Community College. But I would always walk by the school and wonder how? They took the how out of the equation and made it really simple for me. Without the support coaches, and their resourcefulness, I don’t think I would have been able to do it.”
Nineteen year old Samuel Garrett has been a member of the Center for Male Engagement since Fall 2013. After graduating from Northeast High School, Garrett was referred to Perkins by a classmate. “He told me that CME helps young brothers find their way through college. My friend said if I got lost, I could come here. About a week later I met Mr. Perkins at a CME breakfast. He said ‘I’ve been waiting for you.’”
Besides helping their students navigate through CCP, the Center for Male Engagement also provides students with school supplies, tutoring (which they call practice, changing the perception amongst the participants), motivational speakers, referral to resources and more.
“We are constantly challenging ideas, trying to get our men to examine what they can do to contribute to the solution, and not reinforce the stereotypes that have fueled the issues our country is currently facing. We let them know we’ve all have had a lot of obstacles that we have to overcome. But you can start here and make your life different.”
In addition to the academic and non-academic support CME provides, they also expose participants to socio-cultural experiences. The year-long program is open to all African American male students enrolled at The Community College of Philadelphia. The program provides a summer enrichment program for men who intend to enroll in the Fall. For more information about the Center for Male Engagement you can visit http://www.ccp.edu/student-support/center-male-engagement