At the beginning of this academic year, 698 black men were enrolled in GW as undergraduates. That is about 3 percent of the undergraduate student population.
And to black men, those figures can make the University seem daunting and full of insurmountable obstacles, said members of the Black Men’s Initiative, a group created to strengthen bonds between black men on campus.
The Initiative is organized by a dynamic group of young black men with directional goals and strong values. It is in its second year and is run by the Multicultural Student Services Center.
The goal is to build “a community of black men that support one another towards the end of graduation preferably within the four year period,” said Russell Fugett, senior program coordinator of MSSC.
Statistics show that black men have the lowest retention rate on campus within the last six years – something the BMI hopes to change.
“If we build a community and build the attitude that we are my brother’s keeper and use the resources of this campus while fostering a community approach it will help more to succeed,” Fugett said.
Leadership Board member Jordan Chisolm knows firsthand how effective the BMI can be.
“I don’t know if I would be here if it weren’t for the BMI. I was starting to really not like GW before the BMI,” Chisolm said.
To him, the feeling of community is one of the strongest aspects of the BMI.
There is a “sense of brotherhood and leadership with people you can look up to while having someone to reach to when you have a problem,” Chisolm said.
The five major goals of the program are: to connect, to support and advocate for black men, to display accountability and self-discipline, to educate the black community and to encourage black male involvement. The Leadership Board, the main group of 10 leaders within the program, works toward achieving these goals.
All events attempt to fulfill these five objectives.
High attendance events include haircut nights and Saturday pick-up games of basketball.
Haircut nights involve the students getting together to get haircuts. It builds connections through the unique barbershop culture, where “black men can get together and talk about anything,” Chisholm said. Basketball games also drive members closer. On Saturdays, the members play in the Lerner Health and Wellness Center.
An example of educating the black community was Wednesday night’s discussion titled, “Why are there more black men in jail than in college?”
Leonard N. Moore, author of “Carl Stokes and the Rise of Black Political Power,” led the discussion. Moore said black men should study what they are passionate about. This advice resonated with Leadership Board member Samuel Collins, who said, “Black men need to learn that to be successful.”
Other examples of educational events include symposiums on police brutality and developing professional skills for life after college.
The organization’s core rests in improving the black graduation rate on campus. Leadership Board member Andrew Kinlock said he has noticed the tides are already changing.
“Change has already started in terms of being able to speak to your fellow brother and connect and knowing that you have the support. I can hear the change in tone in some of the freshmen I’ve talked to,” Kinlock said. He also said he thinks that within the next four years, the retention rate for black students will increase.
“We are a minority, and a smaller minority within a minority,” Chisolm said. “Being able to identify with people who you have things in common with gives you that extra sense of comfort that you don’t get anywhere else on campus.”