Midtown: Community

Sorority alumnae aim to help young black men, boys

For decades, the Raleigh Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., has embraced K-12 students in its signature educational program, D.E.L.T.A. Carousel. Boys included.

Now, the organization believes it can and should do more to zero in on boosting success among young African-American males.

They’ll start with EMBODI, short for Empowering Males to Build Opportunities for Developing Independence, a national initiative of the sorority that aims to refocus the organization’s efforts on the plight of African American males, educationally, socially and emotionally. The Raleigh alumnae chapter is trying to determine if and how it will launch the program here as an avenue for change and action.

The chapter also hosts two of the organizations national girls-only initiatives through its Dr. Bettye Shabazz Delta Academy and Dr. Jeanne L. Noble Delta GEMS.

EMBODI expands the organization’s focus on males.

We’re invited to help guide the design and execution of EMBODI at two discussion sessions scheduled for Monday and Thursday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the N.C. Advocates for Justice Building, 1312 Annapolis Drive, Raleigh.

Initially, Raleigh’s Delta alumnae imagined partnering with other fraternities and sororities to brainstorm and design ideas for the program. But the backdrop of the Trayvon Martin case, the ongoing worry over the public school atmosphere – from academics to discipline – and growing concern over black men filling more jail cells than college classes, increased the urgency and fueled the Deltas to move forward.

“We saw the global outrage in that case,” said Jessica Whitaker, president of the chapter. “If you look at the statistics, we’re really setting our children up before something like that even happens.

“We really forget that we have our black males on the road to incarceration. We’re not giving them what they need to avoid that road.”

As a female sorority looking to impact and positively influence young, black males, Whitaker said, “We realized we would have to partner with organizations that have males in them in order to do something more substantial to impact African-American males.”

Meanwhile, as we prepare for this week’s forums, we’re asked to ponder ways to “invest in education now to prevent the emotional and financial impact of incarceration later” and prepare to discuss the following:

On Monday: How can community organizations have an impact on the following for African-American young men?

• Hostile classroom environment for K-12 African-American boys

• Impact of subliminal messages in music lyrics, movies, television and other forms of media

• Peer influence

On Thursday: Can community organizations affect the following for African-American young men?

• Creating committed role models that are assets to their communities

• Positive home environments

“Our stats are getting worse,” Whitaker said. “We’re always concerned what we’re doing is just not enough.

“That put the question back on us: We’re doing good programs and exposing them to good opportunities, but we’re not really measuring our impact outside how many go to college.”

A red flag popped up at this year’s D.E.L.T.A. Carousel Extravaganza: For the first time, no male participants received college scholarships at the celebration, a finale featuring about 160 students in elementary, middle and high school showcasing what they’d learned in the nine-month Carousel session.

“That let us know we’re moving backwards,” Whitaker said.

Accepting that, she said, strategies that emerge during this week’s discussions that aren’t sure to produce measurable results within one year, won’t be considered.

That means, this go-round, the organization is forgoing the usual speaker-with-a-lecture followed by a Q&A format, Whitaker said.

“We want solutions and to get some interaction,” she said. “And, we’re only going to put things down to be considered that are measurable within one year.

“That’s going to be the true challenge, but for us, I think, that will really be the difference in a program that is different than what we are already doing.”

Whitaker continued: “We’re really trying to see what type of ideas are out there, what knowledge parents and community members have of what has worked and what hasn’t worked, and can tell us, ‘This is how you can measure it.’

“Is it working and producing results? Otherwise, why are we doing it?”

I applaud the chapter for taking a look in its own mirror and inviting us in for clarity.

No doubt, our reflection is there, too.