Alphas Apply ‘Each One, Teach One’ Rule to Help Turn Boys to Men

Michelle Barrett Ferrier
July 1, 1996

Black hands and feet move in unison—feet stomping, hands clapping and slapping in precision. Black- and gold-clad bodies intertwine, swaying together then apart. Alpha Phi Alpha's brothers are "stepping" at a campus show, imparting a distinctly American flair to an old African tribal dance of unity.

Around the nation, 15 alumni and collegiate metropolitan chapters of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. are reaching back to African roots once again with the Sankofa Project to unite African-American men with boys who are "on the margin." Their effort is part of an $11 million initiative launched by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation this spring.

The Sankofa Project, which received $400,000 over three years from Kellogg, will encourage high-risk boys aged 3 to 18 to achieve academically and will imbue them with a sense of their African heritage. In the Akan dialect, Sankofa means "to return to the past in order to succeed in the present and go forward."

Kellogg hopes to reach young men and boys—outside of their families, homes, schools, communities, and civil society—in an ambitious 20-year plan to change the lives of disadvantaged African-American males.

Volunteer mentors at each of 15 Alpha Phi Alpha chapters will be paired with approximately 100 males. The youngsters will be drawn from Head Start, elementary, middle and high schools, and grassroots organizations. Mentors, parents and mentees will contract with the schools as collaborators to promote academic achievement. Mentors will serve as role models to help youth build self-esteem — and get to school on time.

In a "rites of passage" segment of the program, "elders" — Alpha Phi Alpha brothers as well as other interested African-American men — will initiate youth into the "secrets" of manhood to reintegrate them into the African-American community.

Alpha Phi Alpha and its Sankofa Project belong to the African-American Men and Boys Collaborative, one of 33 youth-serving organizations that received over $10 million of an $11 million endowment from the Kellogg Foundation under its African-American Men and Boys Initiative.

A Task Force Product

"There are many traditions that are not being passed along to boys from men because their fathers are not there," said Ronald Jenkins, Alpha Phi Alpha national program chair. "Mothers are doing an excellent job of raising their daughters and loving their sons, but sons must be raised, too."

Jenkins adds: "It takes a little bit more than some mothers are able to provide," an understatement given the tremendous loss of life, liberty and hope that defines much of the African-American male experience today.

The project grew out of 61 recommendations made by a 51 member task force named by Kellogg. In its report: Repairing the Breach: Key Ways to Support Family Life, Reclaim Our Streets, and Rebuild Civic Society in America's Communities, the recommendations, if fully implemented, would help preserve the talents of young African-American boys — and, to turn, help in heal the nation.

"I always take offense when people say that our young people are in trouble — our society is in trouble," comments former Atlanta mayor Andrew Young, chairman of Kellogg's National Task Force on African-American Men and Boys, and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.

"We need to have discussion at all levels about what we want for our children," said Dr. Bobby Austin, program director of Kellogg's African-American Men and Boys Initiative, in a recent interview. "This is what we've heard at the Million Man March and the Stand for Children demonstration."

Brotherhood's Rich Legacy

Alpha Phi Alpha, organized in 1906, is the nation's oldest African-American collegiate fraternity and has a history of youth service dating back to its "Go to High School, Go to College" campaign in 1919. The Sankofa Project is but one of several Alpha Phi Alpha national programs focused on African-American youth.

With such noted alumni as W.E.B. DuBois, Martin Luther King, Jr., Adam Clayton Powell, Thurgood Marshall, and Andrew Young, Alpha Phi Alpha feels it has a rich legacy to pass along to disadvantaged African-American men and boys. And with over 300 chapters nationwide — many of which already have established relationships with Boy Scouts, Big Brothers and Head Start — the Sankofa Project is fertile ground for replication in other locales.

"Rites of passage have to do with having males help raise boys," said Jenkins. "It's a process of increasing one's capacity to survive and flourish in today's society." The Sankofa Project promises to empower youth with "critical thinking skills, a sense of purpose, economic opportunities, high expectations, and significant social support."

In a solemn ceremony, boys are introduced to a council of elders who give them permission to join the program. In a manhood pledge developed by Dr. Morris X. Jeff of the Milne Center in New Orleans (see this page), young men make a commitment to develop themselves and their communities.

Spirituality is a key piece of the project, according to Jenkins. Young men, along with their mothers, are required by their contracts to attend church and be involved in three church activities.

"The education of black people and the civil rights movement began in the church," says Jenkins. "We want our young boys to understand spirituality and how it enhances their lives."

The Collaboration

Created to foster networking and skills development, the Collaboration is housed at the Jane Adams Hull House Association in Chicago which acts as the secretariat.

“The time is here and now to aggressively address African-American men and boys issues," said Gordon Johnson, president and CEO of Hull House. "And we should not be wasting time trying to reinvent the wheel."

Collaboration member organizations are diverse (see page 41). They include the People's Congregational United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C., which has launched a dramatic, visual, dance, and musical arts project to assist young African-American males in improving self-concept, decision-making, leadership abilities, and skills; the Opportunities Industrialization Centers of America, Inc., in Philadelphia which has established a focused, curriculum-based comprehensive strategy of education and entrepreneurial development; the Boys Choir of Harlem in New York City which provides a broad-based program of education, counseling and performing arts; and MAD DADS, Inc. of Omaha, Neb. which has designed a gang intervention project.

All of them attract African-American men and boys through a variety of interests — music, religion, education, athletics, business and employment. They all also represent a key, tenet of the Kellogg task force's work: that African-Americans assume primary responsibility for leading and designing efforts that will "repair the breaches" between African-American men and boys. African-American women and girls, and the rest of society.

"The Kellogg initiative supports my convictions by funding programs that are run by black people to help black people," says Trabian Shorters, director of the M. Carl Holman Leadership Development Institute of the National Urban Coalition in D.C. and a Collaboration member. "Foundations usually support white men's organizations to support the 'white man's burden.” Kellogg has pursued funding black-run organizations with some trepidation, but they have stayed the course, and I give them credit."

Shorters sees the Collaboration as building a "sense of a movement." In his work with young black men, Shorters talked about the importance of not getting involved in drugs or gangs, but didn't feel he could speak with authority on these issues. "Now, instead of it being just me talking, I can show them my posse. I can show them that if they are serious about changing something about themselves or their situation, these other organizations are there."

Stan Hebert, head of the National Association of Midnight Basketball Leagues, Inc., agrees. "These kids could care less whose organization does what as long as there is a nice, complete table of services and the proper safety nets so we don't lose those who fall off."

While Midnight Basketball and its programs are not part of the Collaborative, Kellogg's work will assist Hebert in "calibrating some of the adjustments" to the agency's 10-year program. "We have been so busy in our own trenches that we haven't had an opportunity to look at the landscape," admits Hebert.

“When you are under attack by those that don't understand the program, you begin to develop doubt. Does anybody really care? Does anyone see young black men as worth the effort?" Hebert's group was ravaged by GOP congressional opponents to the 1994 crime bill which had specified support for midnight basketball. "With this initiative, it is like seeing a piece of our story presented in a credible, national format," he says.

Hugh Price, president of the National Urban League, believes that the task force's work can help strengthen the quality of existing youth development programs and provide funding for new ones. "The lack of programs happens to disproportionately affect those in the inner city," he says.

"We see a real relationship between [the work of the task force] and youth serving organizations and their long-term work with young people," says Kellogg's Dr. Bobby Austin. "They know how to organize a bureaucracy that works and this could be instrumental in creating an integrated youth policy."

He hopes youth-serving organizations will also be conduits for local conversations on race relations. "If these organizations are like the rest of society, then their kids need to learn about how to get along with one another."

The report is a beginning. “The members of the task force never felt that we had all of the answers," Austin says. The answers lie in the community ... and the youth-serving organizations are in the communities," he adds.

Creating Sustainable Structures

Critical to the success of this long-term initiative are three organizational structures:

  • The American Futures Institute, a free-standing national think tank/work group based in Atlanta, that will continue the work of the task force during the next five years;
  • The Village Foundation, an endowment and/or trust to support other significant recommendations and programs for African-American men and boys that has already received $1 million from the Kellogg Company; and
  • An Institute affiliated with Fisk University in Nashville that will facilitate national and local conversations on race and race relations.

These key recommendations form the basis of Project 2000, the structures that Kellogg hopes will bring sustainability to the initiative.

"Over the long term, we believe the goal must be systemic change," said Austin. “[It], must focus on fostering and maintaining an atmosphere and infrastructure within communities that is favorable to investment in African-American men and boys, and their families."

The National Urban League's Price applauds the initiative. “There is a great convergence of agendas here and I am excited that Kellogg, with all of its resources, is weighing in on this issue. We need all hands on deck, and a large and very important hand has been laid on deck."

While some have labeled the initiative "hyper ambitious," others believe it carries the tone of the Million Man March to a strategic, sustainable level and rejuvenates the "Black Power" movement of the '60s within the younger generation.

"Some of us have endured racial and ethnic problems and still survived," says Hull House's Johnson, former director of Illinois' Department of Children and Family Services. "It is important for these young men to understand that African-American men and women have helped create this initiative and we are in it for the long term... until they see the difference."


National Urban League

Contact: Hugh Price, President

500 East 62nd Street

New York, NY 10021

(212) 310-9000

The National Association of Midnight Basketball Leagues, Inc.

Contact: Stan Hebert, Nat'1. Director

1980 Mountain Blvd, Ste. 214

Oakland, CA 94611

(510) 339-1272

W.K. Kellogg Foundation

One Michigan Avenue

East Battle Creek, MI 49017-4058

Contact: Dr. Bobby Austin, Program Director

(616) 968-1611

Repairing the Breach, National Task Force on African-American Men and Boys, is available as a hardcover book, ISBN 0-931712-21-1 available from ALPINE GUILD, Inc., P.O. Box 4846, Dillon, Co 80435.


Alphas Apply ‘Each One, Teach One’ Rule to Help Turn Boys to Men: National African-American Male Collaboration

Alphas Apply ‘Each One, Teach One’ Rule to Help Turn Boys to Men: Manhood Pledge

Ferrier, Michelle Barrett. "Alphas Apply ‘Each One, Teach One’ Rule to Help Turn Boys to Men."Youth Today, July/August 1996, p. 48.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.