Mentoring to Manhood gives black teens in Prince George’s a shoulder to stand on

Robert Malone and neighbor Arthur Jones-Dove live comfortably in Prince George’s County. Both are MBAs and are successful in their respective professions. Nobody would blame them if they chose to sit around the house on Saturdays and just enjoy the fruits of their labors.

Nobody, that is, except them.

“What’s the point of us celebrating ourselves, knowing that so many young folks are being left behind?” said Malone, 42, who is chief business development officer for Volunteers of America Chesapeake.

You don’t hear a lot of talk like that these days. Mostly, it’s “I got mine; you get yours.” And if you don’t have, you must not deserve.

Malone and Jones-Dove could not accept that way of thinking. So, in 2005, they started a Saturday mentoring program at their homes in Upper Marlboro, called Mentoring to Manhood — or M2M. Any youngster from the county, regardless of attitude or economic circumstance, would be welcomed.

“The first time we met, nobody showed up,” said Jones-Dove, 40, a civil engineer and associate vice president with Louis Berger Water Services in Baltimore.

But they kept at it. Both men belong to churches that emphasize reliance on faith and prayer. Instead of just lamenting a lost generation of young black males, they would laud the ones who were found and saved by grace. Before long, like-minded men began to join in.

“I know that I couldn’t keep driving by this problem; I had to take ownership of it,” said Steven Raines, 54, a retired X-ray technician who has been a mentor at M2M for two years. “I can look at these kids and say, ‘That used to be me.’ But somebody reached out and helped me, so I know what I’m doing can make a difference.”

There are no easy fixes, of course. Only 55 percent of black males graduate from Prince George’s public high schools. A high incarceration rate and high unemployment and poverty rates indicate serious structural flaws in the nation’s economic and education systems. No point pretending that mentoring is going to solve all that.

But mentoring sure helps. A lot.

More than 300 youngsters have participated in M2M since it started eight years ago.

The nonprofit organization’s program now meets at three schools in the county, having long outgrown the mentors’ homes. I recently visited one group at Kettering Middle School in Upper Marlboro, where about a dozen mentors were working with about 40 youngsters, ages 12 to 17.

Like Malone and Jones-Dove, all of the mentors rejected the notion that we succeed in life by individual effort alone. They understood that we all need a helping hand from time to time; better still, a shoulder to stand on.

“I was tired of reading about one in three black males getting caught up in the criminal justice system or how so many black fourth-graders didn’t know how to read,” said Therman Evans, 41, a speechwriter for the National Education Association and chairman of the M2M board. “We wanted to change that. We knew it wouldn’t be easy. But we were committed. We would use patience and love. We would love the foolishness out of even the most challenging ones.”

The median grade-point average for students entering the mentoring program is about 1.8. For at least three hours every Saturday, they get tutoring in subjects where they are faring poorly and help in sharpening their “life skills.” The results have been impressive.

According to the High School Assessment tool used by the county, M2M students showed a 25 percent improvement rate in their overall GPA last year. And at least 75 percent of youths in the program demonstrated improvement in observable social behavior and parental relationships, according to a M2M survey that was conducted using the National Mentoring Partnership’s pre- and post-program assessment.

About 70 percent of the students being mentored come from single-parent homes. Unfortunately, there are some among us who would refuse to help such students, choosing instead to blame their parents — especially the fathers — for not doing their jobs. Mentors, thank goodness, are not so self-righteous; just righteous as they selflessly step into the breach.

“Some of us had fathers, some of us did not — but all of us have the capacity for showing unconditional love,” Malone said. “It’s just something in our hearts that tugs at us to do something to help them.”

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/milloy.

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