Black fraternities joining Big Brothers Big Sisters to help woo black male mentors

DORIE TURNER
Associated Press Writer

ATLANTA (AP) — Three of the country’s largest black fraternities are joining forces with Big Brothers Big Sisters to help woo black men into the national mentoring program.

The Philadelphia-based nonprofit, which announced the new partnership Monday, has struggled to attract minorities to pair with a growing list of black youths from mostly single-parent homes who are signing up in droves, President and CEO Judy Vredenburgh said. The fraternities will urge their 250,000 active members to become mentors, as well as hold recruitment drives for Big Brothers Big Sisters at everything from to college campuses to barbershops.

“We want to pull together and to really change the plight of our young boys,” said Vredenburgh, whose organization focuses on low-income kids and children with one or both parents in jail. “How can we rest until we know each kid who wants and needs a big brother gets one?”

Big Brothers Big Sisters has a waiting list of about 8,500 black boys who are waiting for mentors, which represents 40 percent of the boys waiting to be matched, spokeswoman Kelly Williams said. But only about 15 percent of mentors involved in the program are black men and the numbers aren’t growing fast enough to keep up with the demand.

The number of children involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters has skyrocketed from 118,000 in 2000 to 256,000 last year, Vredenburgh said. And in many of the organization’s 400 agencies across the country, black boys are the majority of children waiting for a mentor.

The nonprofit has been working with the Baltimore-based Alpha Phi Alpha for several years to help recruit, but now it is adding the Philadelphia-based Kappa Alpha Psi and the suburban Atlanta-based Omega Psi Phi.

“No one can save us but us,” said Charles Johnson, spokesman for Omega Psi Phi, based in Decatur, Ga., which has 750 chapters across the country. “As one of the largest organizations of college educated black men, I think we have a responsibility to step up and join others of the same ilk, to make an impact and do it in a very meaningful way.”

For mentors like Micheal Johnson, who joined Big Brothers Big Sisters last fall after an Alpha Phi Alpha recruitment drive at his Dallas barbershop, the program is a chance to give back to an organization that helped him survive growing up in a tough neighborhood without a father in the 1980s. Johnson, 37, said he still talks regularly with his big brother, Dale Long, and wants to have the effect on a child’s life that Long had on his.

“I had to see a man be a man,” Johnson said about Long. “We need to show our young men how to be a man and that we can make it.”

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