UIS students mentor children at Springfield school as part of the Black Male Initiative
A group of University of Illinois Springfield students, who are members of the Black Male Collegiate Society on campus, are spending one hour a week mentoring elementary students, as part of the UIS Black Male Initiative.
The mentoring program, which is organized by Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Illinois Capital Region, is an attempt to introduce positive male role models into the lives of the young students at Springfield’s Matheny-Withrow Elementary School.
“I think that having positive male role models in their lives will essentially put them a step ahead in life,” said Shomari Jackson, a sophomore accounting major and volunteer.
UIS Black Male Initiative coordinator and graduate student Anthony Thomas-Davis approached Big Brothers Big Sisters about the partnership. He says it benefits UIS students as much as the children, because they are gaining valuable experience.
“A lot of these guys don’t have opportunities to be involved in any type of developmental mentoring programs,” said Thomas-Davis.
Big Brothers Big Sisters Enrollment specialist Yvonne Wapniarski says, before the UIS group she had only interviewed four African American men who wanted to be mentors in the past seven years.
“Very few times is there a productive male role model in the children’s lives, especially African American men,” she said.
Wapniarski says 90% of the households Big Brothers Big Sisters work with are headed by a single female who is below the poverty level. That is why having these positive black male mentors is so important.
The UIS mentors plan to meet with the children every Friday during lunch for the rest of the school year. They often talk about school, homework and what is going on at home.
“Basically he uses me as someone to vent to, so if there’s an issue or a problem that’s happening or going on he can talk to me about anything,” said Jackson.
Jackson says he was fortunate to grow up with a positive male role model in his life. Now he is happy to give back to these students.
“It gives me the feeling of helping someone and being a positive role model. Whenever I feel like I can help somebody else it makes me feel good,” he said.