The youth mentoring organization founded by actor Hill Harper normally welcomes male and female graduating middle schoolers. But this year, Manifest Your Destiny is focusing on Black boys for its upcoming Summer Empowerment Academy.

This shift in emphasis comes a decade after Harper published his bestseller, Letters to a Young Brother. In recognition of this milestone anniversary, his organization is turning its attention squarely on this troubled demographic.

MYD board member Romell Cummings told NewsOne that this emphasis is about more than Harper’s groundbreaking book: “Lots of people see the urgent need to save Black boys—from the White House to grassroots organizations. I’m glad to see that we’re making this shift.”

The Summer Empowerment Academy is MYD’s flagship program. The intensive week-long course includes workshops and hands-on training, ranging from academic strategies to entrepreneurship. Those lessons are reinforced in Saturday sessions throughout the participants’ freshman high school year. These modules offer meaningful opportunities for one-on-one interactions between mentors and mentees. The program began in Los Angeles and expanded last year to Washington, D.C.

Executive Director Erika R. McCall said the program came into existence to address the high dropout rate among Black students in low-income communities. MYD focuses on freshman because failing courses in the first year of high school diminishes the chances of graduating.

The program depends on a core of young professionals to mentor up to 30 students during the summer academy and the ongoing sessions.

Reaching the students is often a challenge, said McCall, who worked previously with Chicago youth and is the author of Go For Yours, which shares inspirational stories about young African-Americans who achieved their goals.

Many of the students have erected a mental block that we have to help them get over,” she said. “Some of them say things like, ‘I don’t know why we’re talking about college. I don’t have any chance of going to college.’”

Cummings, who works at the U.S. Department of Justice, is also a mentor. He encounters the same attitude McCall described among the students in D.C.

“It’s a form of mental imprisonment,” he explained. “But I understand where they’re coming from. They’re thinking: ‘how can I talk about college when graduating high school seems distant?’”

One student, he recalled, stunned the team of mentors last summer with this question: ‘What are we doing this for if we’re going to die anyway?’

Cummings said that speaks to their environment. Many of the students go through life worrying about whether they or someone they love will make it home each day. Part of the solution, he said, is exposure to successful role models who overcame similar obstacles that they face.

The organization will hold its annual gala at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C. It’s a spin on the popular TV program, Dancing with the Stars. The contestants include Towanda Braxton, Traci Braxton, and former football player Donte Stallworth.

Proceeds will go a long way toward the goal of expanding the program into other states. Next up are MYD programs in Baltimore and Chicago.

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty

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