Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Donkor Minors, the coordinator of targeted programs in the 10 boys initiative. The program was started in 2007 by Dr. Ingrid Carney as a way to keep young men of color in school and out of jails and graveyards. After finding a solid base within the Boston Public Schools system and managing to keep boys enrolled, they began to focus on academic success.
Dr. Blake retired in 2014, and Donkor took over as coordinator. He focuses on providing holistic opportunities for growth, including the expansion of their planned trips. Some of these trips have been to DC, Baltimore, NYC, and even Ghana. The point is to take them out of a familiar realm, to get them out of their comfort zone. 10 Boys started the international trips in order to form cultural connections and provide context for the history of many of the African teachings that 10 Boys incorporates into its programming.
These African traditions use a communal model. When one person performs an action, everyone shares in the consequences and helps each other. Donkor explained that although it can be easy to betray ourselves, people hesitate before dragging others down with them. The reverse is true as well. Students are more likely to lift each other up when they can share in the rewards. This encourages the students to empower one another and see themselves as something bigger. It gets them excited for school by creating a sense of belonging.
Donkor went into detail about what he calls the 30-40-30 model. These groups represent the “high achievers, greys, and alphas.” Everyone has a different personality that might enable them to excel in one area but fall behind in another. By creating heterogeneous groups, instead of lumping all the same students together, each group comes together to refine the skills that each individual might lack through the power of diversity.
Hopelessness keeps students from achieving. Much of what I have learned about mentoring centers on empowerment, convincing someone that they can achieve their goals. Often, I find that it is a mental block, rather than a physical one, that stymies our drive. Donkor went about achieving this new model by shifting to a business oriented approach. He rejects the top-down model that focuses on the goals of the educators, and instead, he focuses on the wants and needs of the students. This tailored approach goes against the grain. I have talked to many in the public school system that dislike the current system focused on standardized testing. Luckily, the afterschool programs have more leeway, but Donkor’s success serves as a testament to all those other teaching staff who wish to reject our current model.
The current state of the world further exacerbates this issue. No more face-to-face class time means that gaps in education will only continue to grow. We need to rethink our priorities and supply students with what they need. Every young person is different, and a one-size-fits-all approach is not the answer here. Unfortunately, the system could see some pushback to this model. When adults are in control of young people, it can be tempting to default to what is easy. Administrators do not always give enough time to being thoughtful, and sometimes we need to push ourselves to take the hard road.
Although the 10 Boys Initiative has been around for over a decade and serves more than 300 students, it still faces many of the same problems that other programs in the public school system face. They lack money to hire facilitators and instead relies on a dedicated network of volunteers. These volunteers are very passionate, and have enabled tremendous growth over the years, and Donkor made sure to express his gratitude. However, the guaranteed consistency from a full-time position is difficult to replicate.
In 2016, the 10 Girls Initiative began, and it has continued to grow and flourish. Donkor believes that there is an equal initiative for healing, but he relies on the women who lead the group to understand their needs. He bases the curriculum off of the boys’, but he recognizes that there is still more work to be done. When I asked him about the similarities he had seen between the two groups, he put it simply: “happy children equal successful children.” He hopes to provide the same level of quality and empowerment for everyone who needs it.
Mass Mentoring Partnership is proud to support 10 Boys 10 Girls and all the work they do. We are very fortunate to include them in our annual Mentoring Night at Fenway and help connect them with mentors, who have developed beautiful relationships over the years. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn more about this wonderful program, and I know that it will continue to grow and thrive in the years to come.