boys and young men of color mentor and youth picture

Three YMCA associations in North Carolina participate in the first cohort of the national YMCA Boys and Young Men of Color (BYMOC) Initiative led by Michael DeVaul with YMCA of the USA. While this work began prior to COVID-19, it’s more critical than ever, DeVaul said. “It’s a reconciliation project to me, it’s a healing exercise and it’s restorative,” he continued.

“Only 52% of African American males and 58% of Hispanic/Latino males graduate from high school in four years. During the pandemic, only 49% of black males and 42% of Latino male students of color who come from schools in low to moderate income zip codes participated in virtual school in Charlotte, NC. We’re at an all-time high with trauma, mental health issues, alcohol sales, and what we are seeing on our TV screens about our boys and young men of color. It’s clear we are in peril,” he said.

Initiated by the Y’s African American CEO Network, the BYMOC Initiative is about the YMCA investing in boys of color, age 11 to 17, to improve their well-being (academic, social emotional, financial and health) and pave a pathway to success for them. 

There are four key metrics:

  • 70% of BYMOC will access high-quality, nurturing and more culturally responsive neighborhood environments.
  • 75% of BYMOC will have stabilized and improve grades by reducing suspensions and improving school attendance.
  • 100% of BYMOC will have completed pre- and post-assessment for social emotional learning.
  • 75% of BYMOC will increase access to high-quality, post-secondary and career-ready pathways.

“This isn’t a program, we’re a strategy, DeVaul said. Ys across the country choose which program they want to infuse the strategy into. Local Y leadership, collaboration, and peer mentoring are all part of the strategy, along with seeing programs differently –through the lens of cultural competency starting with self.

 “We have benchmark data from 26 cities and 16 states,” DeVaul said. “By the end of the month, we should be able to tell a better story about the 1,400+ boys who are engaged. To date, 54% are in high school, 70% are African American, 9% are Latino, 5% identify as more than one race, 5% as Native American and 1% as white. Forty-seven percent of our boys have a GPA between 1.2 and 2.0. Through social emotional assessment of the five skills we are assessing, 68% are emerging in self-management, while 34% are advanced,” DeVaul said. The data is baseline data prior to being involved in BYMOC, DeVaul said. 

Also, more than 140 leaders have been activated and have taken a cultural competency self-assessment, because the strategy leads with self-awareness as the way to elevate fixing systems, not symptoms, DeVaul said. "The Equity Innovation Center has been a tremendous resource in developing this strategy as a proof point."

At Home in NC
The YMCA of Greater Charlotte, the YMCA of Northwest North Carolina and YMCA of the Triangle all applied to be part of the first cohort. More than 350 youth of color are engaged in the three NC regions.

photo of Tyler from YOTA Achievers program

“Being a part of the Lightner Y Achievers (LYA) and the BYMOC programs has prepared me to navigate society and build my confidence as a Black male,” said Tyler. “With all the challenges I face as a young, Black student-athlete, it also has helped me grow socially and equipped my mind to achieve my goals!  I have been involved with the Y Achievers program since I was 8 years old.  I have been exposed to male and female adult volunteers, college tours, robotics program, LYA summits and now more importantly the BYMOC program!”

Kendall Harris, Senior Director of Equity Advancement for YMCA of the Triangle, said the Y is partnering with Level Next, 64 Squares HIP-HOP Chess Academy for several months for a pilot with its Clarence E. Lightner Achievers Program.

“These boys and young men are not just learning to play chess; they are learning the game of life and figuring out how to navigate systems and social resilience,” Harris said. Lessons bring together chess, martial arts and positive HIP-HOP (High in Potential – Helping Our People) philosophy and experience to encourage critical thinking, life skills and making the right moves on the chess board of life. Harris said the boys’ feedback has been positive.

In the Winston-Salem area, YMCA of Northwest North Carolina is launching its Teen Talk Series: Let's Talk, This Is America. The first topic in this series is "The Dos and Don'ts of Getting Pulled Over," which is in partnership with the Winston-Salem Police Department. The talks are free, virtual events open to all middle and high school students in the YMCA of NWNC programs, the public and community partners who work with middle and high school students. The Y and the police department hope to educate youth, open dialogue and help officers build positive relationships with youth. 

picture of boys and adult mentor