100 Black Men of Akron expands in-school mentoring program to reach kids on the weekends
Michael Irby, a retired Akron Public Schools educator and administrator with four decades' experience coaching high school and college football, has learned the telltale signs of distress in a student's voice and body language.
Sometimes, the issue has nothing to do with what's going on in school. It might be a response to bullying. But often the bad behavior that brought the child to Irby's attention has everything to do with something at home or outside the classroom.
And the only way to find out is to put in the time to build trust and to keep asking, "How's your day going?"
"I'm a believer that when you give a kid a platform to talk, you learn a lot," said Irby. "And not only that, you gain confidence from these kids when they're allowed to speak instead of letting you talk all the time."
Irby is the president of 100 Black Men of Akron Inc. He's also among a handful of the organization's dedicated mentors who reach more than 20 students every week in Akron Public Schools. His approach is one of the oldest answers to the rising issue of school violence — an issue the Beacon Journal has spotlighted in recent reporting.
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Irby partners with school building staff to find students in need. But he doesn't accept just anyone who thinks they have a little extra time to help a kid.
"If you can't mentor a young kid for the long haul, I will not put you in front of them," he said. "If you think you can come in here for one week or two weeks, you will not mentor this kid. Because a lot of these kids, they get that at home where people are in and out of their life."
Mentoring 'the whole kid'
Irby co-founded 100 Black Men of Akron Inc. in 2004 with a group of pastors and youth support advocates. With a focus on education, health, wellness and economic empowerment in Akron's Black community, the mentoring program started in Rankin, Schumacher, Helen Arnold and Portage Path elementary schools and has expanded up through high school, with current service in Crouse and Barber elementary schools and Firestone high school.
100 Black Men of Akron Inc. held its annual youth summit two weeks ago as part of National Mentoring Month. About 80 kids attended the discussion and presentation on mental health and self-image.
As he listens to children in the schools or the young attendees who spoke at the annual event, Irby said he's come to prioritize any effort that helps a kid develop conflict resolution skills.
"I really believe that the problem with some of the things are going on with our young folks is that they do not know how to handle conflict," he said. "You know, you gotta fight because someone said something about my brother and all that stuff, or jealousy. So you know, we're focusing on that a lot with mediation.
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"And I think a lot of people who mentor kids don't get to see that you have to mentor the whole person," he said. "You can't just mentor part of that young man. You can't leave anyone (out). When you start having dialogue with the young man, you need to know what's going on at home. You need to get parents involved. Uncles involved. Big brothers involved.
"That's what I call mentoring the whole kid."
How to become a 100 Black Men of Akron mentor
100 Black Men of Akron is always seeking role models with ample time to mentor children. The program is expanding from one-hour slots in school during the week to add a three-hour program on Saturdays.
To donate, learn more or sign up for mentoring opportunities, contact 100 Black Men of Akron Inc. at 330-375-2446 or visit https://100bmoai.org.
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Reach reporter Doug Livingston at email@example.com or 330-996-3792.
This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Stopping the violence: Black men mentor youth in Akron Public Schools