The Ascension ProjectThe Ascension Project

Where Eagles Learn to Fly

“A young man without a mentor is like an explorer without a map.”—Former Eagle Academy Student

Many of the world's famous explorers have braved dangers to discover some far-off country. In the course of their journeys they were frostbitten, attacked by men and animals, lost their bearings, starved, and longed for the familiarity of home. Someone had to go first, of course, so that others could follow behind.

So it is when we send our young men off into the adult world without a mentor to guide them. They become lost trying to navigate a world that is more complex than the one they left behind. Their moral compass and sense of purpose come under attack from incessant media images that play to the most base and vile aspects of humanity. Their fervor becomes chilled by life experiences they are unprepared for, and they long for the familiarity of a world they can never return to.

For our boys, in particular, navigating the adult world without a mentor to guide and translate for them can be a daunting experience. So many of these kids, especially those from low-income neighborhoods, grow up in unstable environments and often without a steady father figure. They may regularly see, or experience, violence in the home or in the neighborhoods. Every day our boys see lives all but lived on the streets, where adult men seem to do little more than gather on street corners and in apartment lobbies to talk, drink, and engage in illegal activities. The One Hundred Black Men of America, Inc. believes that, “What they see, is what they'll be.”

This is where mentoring comes in: It helps young men see what else they can be.
The Eagle Academy for Young Men was founded on the principal that excellence, both in character and scholarship, opens doors and provides a bridge to equality. Mentoring is essential to the success of every Eagle student. While the extended school day and Saturday Institute at Eagle Academy address a young man's scholastic development, mentoring addresses his character development. With the firm belief that the fire for excellence burns in every young person, the Eagle Academy seeks to kindle that fire through the positive example of mentoring.

Through mentors, our boys come in contact with men who are confident and successful, who come from neighborhoods and family situations that are a lot like their own. They often look like the boys they mentor. They share similar life experiences. These men have already successfully navigated the transition to manhood and are willing to lead a younger generation. As Hafiz Williams, an Eagle Academy student, put it, “At first I thought being involved in the Mentoring Program would interfere with my Saturdays. However, coming here completely demolished any prejudgments I had formed. Coming in to see not just men, but black men that were just like me working in different fields was highly influential. I value [my mentor] so much because he has been in similar situations as me and understands what it takes to be where he is in life.”

But the mentors don't just show up for one class period or a single school assembly to give an inspirational speech and go back to their lives. Mentors make a commitment of time and energy. They invest in the lives and well-being of their mentees. Part of what so many of our boys are missing, after all, is a stable, steady relationship with an adult male.

A mentor is more than a tutor, or a life coach. These men are someone that our boys can turn to and rely on. Mentors attend to the social, emotional and cultural needs of their mentees. “If it's a basketball game, etiquette workshop, or providing homework help, mentors are a mainstay at the Eagle Academy,” says Rosmond McCoy, a senior.

For those boys who have big dreams in spite of their circumstances, mentors can guide them in how to best make those dreams a reality. Mentors advise on the internships, scholarships and grants the boys should apply for, and help with the application process. A mentor might even recommend his mentee to an internship with his own company or an affiliate. He shows his mentee how to dress for his first interview and how to impress his interviewer. He shows his mentee how to interact with coworkers and supervisors. “I always wanted to be an entrepreneur and chef," one boy told me, "and my mentor was actually an entrepreneur who owned his own restaurant. And to think that things could not get better, he offered me and two of his other mentees [an opportunity] to work in his business. We would go and give out fliers, develop business ideas, and get a snippet of money for our labor,” he said.

For the mentee, his mentor is a resource to turn to when school becomes overwhelming, or when there seem to be too many choices, or not enough of them. His mentor is reliable, available, and a willing part of his life. For many of our boys, this becomes a foundation for a lifelong relationship with their mentor, and an example to follow when they're old enough to mentor the next generation of young men.

David C. Banks, President, The Eagle Academy Foundation
About David C. Banks