Teaching life skills

Moderated by Rick Badie

Today, we highlight a local program that mirrors the purpose of President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative. It’s the Priority Male Institute, a 12-week program for young black men ages 18 to 28, sponsored by the nonprofit Community Council of Metropolitan Atlanta. A volunteer writes about experiences of the Class of 2014, which recently took part in a “rite of passage” ceremony and graduation, while I talk to the founder of the nonprofit.

“The Institute changed my life”

By Rick Badie

Norma Joy Barnes, founder and president of the Community Council of Metropolitan Atlanta, talks about the non-profit’s Priority Male Institute and its Class of 2014.

Q: How many participants and mentors were there?
A: Of 15, one dropped out after the first class. One had to drop out after six weeks because he was homeless, but we were able to guarantee him space at a homeless shelter, refer him for employment with a hotel and provide funds for a two-week MARTA card and petty cash. He is doing well. Fourteen young men graduated from the Institute; three mentors worked with the students during the 12-week Institute.

Q: What happens next?

A: Fourteen mentors will be assigned to work one-on-one with each graduate for one year. The council will continue to work with graduates for a one-year period. In addition to being assigned mentors, graduates are required to report to us monthly to track their progress. The council will provide free tutoring to graduates who need to obtain GEDs, and funding to pay for GED testing.

Q: What’s a refrain you often hear from graduates?

A: One consistent statement made by graduates of all three Institutes is: “The Institute changed my life.” The young men openly share how their attitudes and behavior have changed for the better as a result of their Institute experience. They are now thinking about their futures, seeking employment, pursuing further training and education and making positive choices. One member of the Class of 2011 was referred to the Year Up Atlanta program and feels that the Institute prepared him to successfully complete that program. This graduate is now gainfully employed and participated in the 2014 graduation and rite of passage. Another member of the Class of 2011 enrolled in the U.S. Job Corps after graduation. He completed his Job Corps training and is currently employed by a Fortune 500 company in Atlanta. He also participated in the 2014 graduation ceremony. Mentors continue to work with both of these graduates.

Q: It must be gratifying to share success stories.

A: Of course, “success” is relative. One 2011 graduate, who learned about the program while incarcerated, has not been involved in criminal activity since graduation. Although he has been faced with the reality of employers who are not willing to hire ex-offenders, our goal is to help him to obtain gainful employment.

Q: What’s next for the Class of 2014?

A: Five have obtained employment, and seven others are applying for employment with our partners. At least 10 have been matched with mentors, who will meet them at our mentor/mentee luncheon this Saturday. One is being tutored by our staff for the GED examination and plans to enroll in culinary training after obtaining his GED; and one has applied for a technical training program that we identified for him. Our goal is to identify available positions for all graduates who are seeking employment.

Institute empowers these young men for life

By Samuel Greene

On June 7, 14 young black men marched down an aisle, standing proud. They beamed with self-confidence and wore no saggin’ pants. They looked as if they’d completed requirements for a college degree. Twelve weeks before, they’d embarked on a journey that will, hopefully, change their lives. They participated in the Priority Male Institute, a life skills and job readiness program for young black males ages 18 to 28 sponsored by the non-profit Community Council of Metropolitan Atlanta Inc.

These young men were not just statistics to be pored over and put away as an overwhelming problem that “someone” needs to fix. They were young men who had purpose and just needed structure. Within this small group were a future aviation technician, real estate professional, photographer, welder, videogame designer, forensics specialist, physicist and entrepreneur. They all had dreams and visions for their own success. On June 7, they graduated from the Institute at a ceremony held at the Interdenominational Theological Center.
The Priority Male Institute was created by the council to serve this group of black males who had missed out on educational and related opportunities during their childhood and teenage years. The 12-week curriculum includes presentations on personal assessment, self-confidence, heritage, goal setting, interpersonal relationships, conflict resolution, fatherhood, communications skills, criminal justice, financial literacy, etiquette, business development, vocational exploration, higher education, employment rights and responsibilities, resume preparation, interviewing skills, workplace ethics and more.

More than 50 trainers, presenters, facilitators, speakers and guests participated, including a New York Times best-selling author, state senator, judge, TV producer, psychologist, physician, attorneys and formerly incarcerated men. Organizations like Gammon Theological Seminary, Atlanta police, Clark Atlanta University, Morris Brown College, Atlanta Technical College and many others provided education, inspiration and resources to empower these young men for life.

In addition to the classes, students were assigned to selected businesses for work experience and taken on field trips to the APEX Museum, Fulton County Municipal Court, Atlanta Metropolitan College and the EPIC Atlanta Complex. Employment opportunities with participating employers were also provided.

Trained mentors will work with these young men for one year to help them navigate their journey. Without doubt, the lives of these young men are being transformed. Suffice it to say, this is what the Priority Male Institute is all about: providing life skills training to young men who want to be a part of the society that rewards hard work and ideas that can help humanity.

Imagine if this program could be duplicated, multiplied and funded properly. The council has plans to replicate the program throughout Georgia in early 2015, will accept applications from organizations that wish to be sponsors and will provide training, technical support and oversight.

I recall the faces of each student and the pride that resonated on their faces at the graduation and rite of passage ceremony. I am grateful I had an opportunity to change a life or lend a hand. Without the vision and passion of council founder Norma Joy Barnes, I would not be writing this today.

Samuel Greene is director of communications for the Community Council of Metropolitan Atlanta.

 


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