For the past three years, young African-American men from the greater Pittsburgh area have come together in a college setting to focus on leadership development. This year the Black Male Leadership Development Institute has expanded to allow for more youths and more development.

TOMORROW’S LEADERS—High school students from the greater Pittsburgh area participate in a college-prep workshop during last year’s program.

“The biggest thing is, last year after five days you were done, but this year it’s year round. The learning will continue, the networking will continue,” said Florence Rouzier, director of education, Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh. “We want them to feel a part of strong valued community, that’s a community of strong men and nurturing adults. There are going to be so many opportunities for these young men to model these good behaviors.”

On the campus of Robert Morris University, young men in the BMLDI get to experience a taste of college life while being presented with positive images of African-American men. These men serve as faculty, they lead workshops and sessions aimed at college and career preparation as well as personal growth.

“They’re all African-American men from all walks of life to show success has many faces on it. It’s not always someone wearing a suit,” Rouzier said. “We try to show that to empower them.”

Through an increase in funding by the Heinz Endowments, the Urban Lea­­gue will be able to expand the program from five to seven days and provide a series of workshops and mentoring throughout the year. The increase of funding to $150,000 has also allowed 65 students to participate, compared to 52 last year.

With this expansion, it is more important than ever, that those students most in need of this guidance have an opportunity to participate. The Urban League has outreach efforts in the Pittsburgh Public School District, local churches and the housing authority.

“We’re not really trying to reach the kid who is a stellar leader in the school, who is the student who is already on the path to college,” said Rouzier. “We’re really trying to reach the kid who is that raw unpolished stone. The kid who has the potential that’s ready to be brought out if he could only be in the right environment. There are a lot of kids who are academically marginal or not engaged. They want to succeed, they just don’t know how.”

And while some would argue the greatest number of unpolished stones can be found right in the inner-city of Pittsburgh, in the Pittsburgh Public School District, Rouzier disagrees.

“I would question the statement that it’s mostly needed in the PPS. All of the schools outside of the PPS, we are needed there, too,” Rouzier said. “We’ve made an effort to expand outside of the city. We want to be inclusive. We think it’s important for a kid from Sewickley Academy to meet a kid from Duquesne.”

The expansion of the program will allow for the Urban League to form a type of fraternity where the young men will stay linked through social networking and monthly workshops. They will also be connected with an e-mentor.

“One of the things we know we can do and we know we have done is create a community. It’s okay in that group to be smart,” Rouzier said. “Some kids, depending on the community they live in, they have all these aspirations, but put them in a group of young people who all want to achieve and they will.”

The program is open to students in grades nine through 12. Enrollment is open until June 4 and the program will run June 20-27.

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