On a busy Wednesday evening, 15 to 20 people gathered at the California Endowment building in downtown Oakland to discuss “The College Bound Brotherhood,” an initiative to increase college opportunities and success for young black men. The meeting included scholars who participate in the program and have gone on to attend college, as well as representatives from partner organizations, such as Diane Dodge, executive director of the East Bay College Fund.
College Bound Brotherhood is a group that provides African American young men the financial support to attend college and excel in their studies. Young men graduating from any high school in the nine Bay Area counties, such as the Oakland Unified School District, are eligible to apply. College Bound Brotherhood also works with non-profits, school districts, postsecondary institutions, and community members to gather data and use that data to figure out what positively and negatively effects African American men in their education.
“Brotherhood is much more than a program because we work with non-profits to share data with the school districts about the young men directly served by them and not served by them, and what the patterns are and whether or not they have been helping” said Alicia Dixon, executive director of the Marcus Foster Education Institute.
The institute was founded by Dr. Marcus A. Foster, who was an advocate for education reform and the first African American superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District. The group organizes and awards the scholarships for students throughout Oakland. College Bound Brotherhood is an example of one of the groups that receive scholarship funds from the Marcus Foster Education Institute.
Dixon spoke about keeping schools accountable for graduation rates of African American young men and how that can be improved. “Unless we are having constructive and supportive conversation about accountability in public systems to have the expertise to improve outcomes for this particular group of students, we are never going to make the progress we want in being able to support the schools so they can support more diverse students,” said Dixon.
Dixon said some of the reasons why African American young men have low graduation rates include truancy and cultural identity issues. Examples discussed during the meeting included being unable to learn about their own culture in history textbooks, not having the opportunity to see themselves reflected in the material they are learning, being told to join school programs and take advance placement courses where they do not feel like they are highly represented. And as a result, they feel disconnected to their studies, Dixon said.
The meeting focused on covering the findings of the report that will be released in November on the progress that College Bound Brotherhood has made on getting black young men prepared for college. Their report found that scholarship awardees had better retention rates and higher rates of class attendance in college courses. According to their report, 100 percent of College Bound Brotherhood participants enrolled in college 6 months after graduating from high school, and students who received the scholarship had higher rates of maintaining a 2.0 grade point average (GPA) or higher in college.
According to data collected by the group, within California, less than two-thirds of African-American young men earn their high school diplomas, compared to 88 percent of all students. Just over a quarter complete the necessary college preparation courses.
The findings showcased how College Bound Brotherhood tries to create system-level changes for young black men in public education and post-secondary settings. For example, the report will discuss College Bound Brotherhood scholars and their higher completion of A-G requirements. A-G requirements are separate from having a passing GPA. Students in high school with an average letter grade of “C” or better and completed A-G requirements are eligible to apply for a University of California or California State University school.
Eligah Morgan, a College Bound Brotherhood scholar and a third-year student at Contra Costa College, said he believes that the program has given him an edge in his pursuit of higher education. “So far, they have helped me network a lot better, connecting with people in different fields. They also give out scholarships of $2,000 that helped with school supplies. One year my FAFSA didn’t go through and it helped me buy my books and laptop,” said Morgan.
FAFSA stands for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and students must reapply for this aid each academic school year. The money students receive is dedicated towards living and school expenses such as paying for books, classes, materials, and on- or off-campus living.
Morgan also believes that the program will help him with his future career. “I see myself graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in mechanical engineering and working for Nissan, while running my own after school program for people of color that teaches them about engineering,” said Morgan.
Morgan describes his mother as his motivation for pursing higher education. “I was raised by my mom in a single parent household, and seeing her struggle and make something of herself while going to school and getting her B.S., all while raising two boys, made it feel like there is no excuse to why I can’t do this as well,” said Morgan.
Morgan said he believes that education will make his mother proud and provide him with a method to support her, just as she did him. “I can make a difference and be that trophy badge for her, so she knows that she raised a good son who is doing something, and pursuing his dreams and taking care of her. I want to put myself in a position to take care of her in the future so she doesn’t have to struggle anymore,” said Morgan.
Robert Pinkney is preparing to graduate from San Jose State University this spring with a degree in kinesiology and an emphasis in physical therapy. Pinkney, just like Morgan, has great praise for the role that College Bound Brotherhood has played in his life. “We cannot forget the power of money, and with the funding they have provided I was able to go on college tours and see professional educators that I could speak with. They encourage me to continue this uphill battle. Just knowing that I had people with the resources that supported and acknowledge me is what helped me stay mentally encouraged,” said Pinkney.
After graduation, Pinkney has plans to remain local and work at a hospital providing physical therapy for Bay Area residents. “I want to be involved in doing the same work that College Bound Brotherhood is doing in helping black men and women feel supported, and be a familiar face in time of need,” said Pinkney.
Pinkney describes education as important because it leads to connections and opportunities. “It is a pathway to a career that will allow me to feed my family,” said Pinkney.
During the meeting, Dixon spoke about the goals that College Bound Brotherhood has of supporting and rebuilding the public education system in the Bay Area to effectively serve young black men in a manner that reflects respect and value for their lives, and responds to their culture and aspirations. “There is no inherent deficiency to the young men, but rather the environment they are being educated in, and we need to figure out what that is so we can give them better opportunities to succeed,” said Dixon.
College Bound Brotherhood will continue working with non-profit organizations, school districts, and community members by gathering data on how to better support African American men through their journey to higher education. They will also continue to provide financial support through scholarships. The next round of awards will begin after the deadline in March 2018.
“College Bound Brotherhood is a community and family of people who are truly concerned. They care about you and put action towards helping a black man persist,” said Pinkney. “It is a safe community and there are good people who genuinely care.”