William Malcolm is teaching young boys to become good men through mentoring and real-world opportunities.
These lessons on mentorship come from the heart of Detroit, where BMe Leader William Malcolm grew up. He says that while he was blessed to have his stepfather adopt him at age two, many kids in town were not so lucky. At age 27, he finally met his biological father, uncles, and cousins; men that he should have felt a deep connection with, but didn’t. Shortly after their reunion, he took it upon himself to found the Men of Style and Substance mentorship program.
Now in its fifth year, Men of Style and Substance will expand the 3-month mentorship program to a full 9-month program. The group of fourteen high school junior and senior mentees will meet with Malcolm’s seven mentors at the United Way every other Saturday for a program packed with opportunities for real-world application and exposure.
Though it’s a small program by some measures, Malcolm’s approach has distinguished itself time and time again. CNN Money hosted a 4-day interview with Malcolm on his transformational scholarship contest. Last year he received a BMe Leadership Award, and then he and the other 24 BMe Leaders in Detroit were awarded “The Spirit of Detroit” by the city council.
“Dr. King had a dream, well, I have a dream too.” Malcolm said, “My dream is that in the future fathers will take on the responsibilities of fathers and that all young black men will have the direction in their lives that they need and that they want.”
Malcolm says that there are a number of factors that play into the success of a mentorship program. It begins, he says, with people who truly have their heart set on transforming lives for the better.
1. ‘Opportunity and Exposure’
At its very core, Malcolm says, what separates the haves and the have nots is opportunity and exposure. This is why it’s so critical to host activities and present resources that actively mend that gap.
Serving in that capacity, Malcolm reached out to more than 20 schools in the Detroit Metropolitan Area. He recruits for his program via word-of-mouth and asks for students who may not otherwise have a chance.
Malcolm explains that opportunities for personal transformation begin with personal accountability. The first day of the program begins with all the big questions: name a recent act of charity, explain what it means to be a ‘Man of Substance’, what do you want to be when you grow up, and what are you doing to achieve that goal. Malcolm says it’s important to create a setting where young men can evaluate and better define what’s of value in their life today and in the future.
2. ‘Sense of Empowerment’
Malcolm says it’s important to establish a sense of empowerment the moment that mentees walk through the door. Out of habit, he says new mentees often entered the room without making eye contact and introduced themselves only by their first name. As a result, Malcolm has established a rule that if your presence is not sensed when you walk into the room, you’ve got to re-enter and make your presence known.
Once each man experiences how it feels to be empowered, Malcolm says, opportunities for growth can take place. This year, the group of fourteen mentees will reach back and help to mentor third graders without fathers in Detroit.
“To be honest, our mentees were surprised that we thought they had something to value,” Malcolm said. “We give these men value when we show them that they have something to share. It gives them a sense of empowerment.”
Malcolm teaches each young man how to shake hands; how to pick out and tailor a suit, dine at a table with appropriate etiquette, and even how to avoid bad credit and manage finances. He is also the host of a Saturday morning radio show where mentees are asked to appear on-air as special guests.
3. Access to Resources
Last year, Malcolm approached local store owners about his intentions with the mentees. He says that once business owners heard that he was on a verifiable track, people wanted to give. He was able to raise more than $40,000 locally over the last four years.
The inner development of the boys is complemented by enhancements in their outer appearance. Malcolm provides each young man with a blazer embroidered with their full name and the future profession of their choice. Mentees learn how to properly tie a tie, shake a hand, and dine in style while dressing in style.
Resources also came directly from the seven mentors of the program. One owns a party bus company in Detroit and plans to use company limousines to chauffeur mentees to group activities. For instance, later this year, high school mentors will ride in style with the third graders to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.
4. Teachable Moments
Each year, before prom season kicks in, Malcolm hosts an oratory competition for the senior mentees. The competition requires each participant to answer a series of complex ethical questions — specific to their immediate peer group.
“It applies to what’s relevant in the schools and at home,” Malcolm said. “For example, a video of a young woman acting inappropriately is being shared student-to-student throughout the school. How do you address this situation?”
Traditionally, the winner of Malcolm’s annual oratory contest walks away with a free suit to the prom. The young men who opt out of a response, or take the ‘that’s on them’ approach, are disqualified. The lesson is clear: only those who take responsibility can win.
5. Start with the right fabric
The very most important part of launching a mentorship program, according to Malcolm, is the character of the people who are helping to implement the program. The heart, he says, has to be there.
“If you have people of the right fabric,” Malcolm says, “or people who are truly passionate about transforming lives, then the program basically runs itself. For me, this isn’t work. You don’t have to be Warren Buffett to give your time and show that you care. That giving starts now.”
That disposition is the main reason that Malcolm was named a BMe Leader last year. BMe Community recognizes black men as assets to society and connects them and people of all race and sex who are working to make their communities better. Founded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, BMe is now an independent fast-growing social enterprise with operations in Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Pittsburgh and investments from the Open Society Foundations, Heinz Endowment and private donors. BMe Leaders are men whose authenticity, caring and commitment inspire others.
Malcolm says, for him, the commitment for change can only begin when you witness the need. He says that the very act of witnessing that there are more security personnel than teachers in classrooms, is enough for most respectable men to take it upon themselves to be the change they wish to see in the world. It begins, he says, by taking that responsibility upon yourself and teaching others to do the same in-stride.
Jenna Buehler is the managing director of Miami-based, Jenna Made Productions. She is a former communications associate at the Knight Foundation where she served as a contributing writer.
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