Angela Williams, founder and Executive Director
Frank Roscoe Jr, Mentor Coordinator
SIR MMDI, founded in 2008, become an official 501c(3) in 2015. Angela Williams, a mother who saw a need for positive male influences in the Birmingham community.
Frank Roscoe came on board a year later.
Frank: I grew up in a single parent home, my father passed away when I was six. I didn’t really have a lot of mentors growing up. I went to college, pledged Alpha, and then was surrounded by brothers with whom I went out to the community to volunteer. We did Big Brother Big Sister and when I got back to Birmingham I wanted to continue that. I wanted to talk to young men and show them a positive outlook on life. They’re seeing a lot of rappers, celebrities on social media, but we can give them something they can see in person--something real, someone they can call on the phone to talk to. Men and boys of color need an actual role model, someone they can be and follow, someone who is going to be there for them. Right now, we’re helping kids go to college. We took them to a basketball game at UAB, then they got to meet an NFL player. We’re trying to take a group on a college tour on March 3rd at Jacksonville State. We meet once a month and have different things we go over each month. One month we had “Engaging Authority”, another month we had “Financial Literacy”. Each month we have different topics we go over.
Q: Can you tell me more about “Engaging Authority”?
A: That’s where we talk to them about how they can engage the police, not just go off when you see them. It’s about staying alive.
Q: How was the feedback about that?
A: We’ve learned that young people are more resourceful and smarter than the perception is. Our model is to expose them to their own untapped potential, encourage them to challenge the status quo by provoking will to live. What we find is that at one point mentoring became cute. “We’ll teach them how to have an interview, we’ll train them to tie a tie, and we’ll do breakfast clubs,” and nothing is wrong with that but in our communities these young people are facing real issues like hunger, like “my friend just got killed last week”. What we found is that not only was there no exposure to untapped potential, but it didn’t matter because there was no expectation to live past 20 or 21. In some areas, if you live past 21 you’re “an old G”, but that’s just a baby.
The thing that sets SIR apart is that we are not coddling or making excuses for anyone. Our first question is always “If you could be or do anything and you knew you could not lose, what would it be?” There is usually a but after the answer: “But my dad left our house,” “But I don’t know anybody,” “But I don’t have any money.” Our answer is always, “Why can’t you?” So then we sit with them and make an individual strategy to meet their goals. We can help them develop the strategy, but the work is theirs. The city is going to count on them. The state is going to count on them to lead us. They need to learn how to lead. We are helping secure scholarships, we’ll edit it, but they have to write the paper. A young man needed money for prom. We won’t give them the money, but we’ll help them find a job. When they become accustomed to being independent, responsible, and doing for themselves it makes a greater impact and then they serve as third-party endorsement to their peers.
We have a group mentoring model. There are ten young men per school, and we break them up into two groups of five. We ask their advisors not to just give us their “at risk” (we hate that word), or their incorrigible, or their troubled youth. We ask that they mix them up. Sometimes we have the young man who has a job and is doing well in school fall through the cracks because everyone thinks they have it all figured out and they do not need guidance. They function as a template to another young man who may be struggling and having real trouble getting along with people, getting along with others, going to school, even wanting to be a part of anything positive. When this person sees somebody that looks like him, close to or of the same age it’s meaningful. The day-to-day contact is important. It holds them responsible to own their destinies for their own trajectories in life. That’s the way we hope we are making a lasting impact.
Q: I can see how that would be meaningful, even to the young man serving as a template to stay in touch with his community. Frank, what’s been the importance of mentoring for you as a man of color mentoring young men in Birmingham, Alabama? What steps do you see that taking in your life?
A: It makes me proud, when I look back to when we met a couple of guys a couple of years ago when we got into a school in Jefferson County. They’re about to graduate high school and when I first met them were stand off-ish and didn’t seem to trust me. “This guy’s in a suit, I don’t know what he’s about.” Now they’re getting ready to go to school, or the military, or to be a firefighter. They have ambition, but when I first met them they didn’t even like school. When May gets here, I may get a little emotional. We’ll get a new crop in, but those were my first set of guys I worked with. For me, it’s big to see that growth.
Q: You all do a lot of community service, what can you tell me about that?
A: That is one of our biggest features because we call it “targeted community service,” it’s in your community. Your community sees you making it better. They walk by it every day and start to take ownership. Let’s say for instance there was a building they had to paint during community service and they see someone spray painting it they’re going to say, “Man, don’t do that that’s my brush, I did that!” Our curriculum is designed for them to choose the block, we call it “Taking the Block.” Images are everything. When you see something positive and you realize you had something to do with it. You get used to winning. Sustaining the win becomes important.
Q: What can you tell me about your upcoming Youth Summit?
A: Our youth has been meeting since October, the Youth Advisory Council, to decide what topics will be covered. Young people are so smart, but at many of these summits they’re just sitting in the audience being talked at. It’s like when you go to the doctor and they diagnose you without you telling them what hurts. It’s hard to make a diagnosis that way. We wanted to give the young people a chance to write their own narrative and change the narrative. There are a lot of misconceptions about young people of color, men and women. That’s why #PopOff was designed. They tackle issues from their vantage point. The first year they covered “Engaging Authority,” “The Effects of Media, Social and Otherwise, on the Culture,” and “ . We asked them what they can and would do about the situation. They used spoken word, skits, and music to make their presentation to adults and young people. Students were randomly placed into breakout sessions so that they could learn to collaborate and work with people who do not think like them. We bring in people from Mountainbrook, Hoover, Parker and have them work together on whatever issue their tasked with. They have a wristband randomly assigned to them when they arrive. Once in the group they develop a community service project to fix the issue. #PopOff has proven to be our most successful program.
Here are three reasons why #PopOff is so important to us:
A girl in the eleventh grade told her teacher she wanted to be a doctor. The teacher told her that she would be putting salt on her fries after graduation. She said, “This is a great opportunity for me--to be able to tell you what I think and not be afraid or talked out of my potential. I just want somebody to listen to me and believe in me.” There was another boy who was just sitting there who came because his teachers or parents made him come. He was sitting there saying, “You don’t listen to us, nobody listens to us.” We responded back, “We’re listening to you today.” After that particular breakout session ended the boy was crying. He was 6 feet, about 200 pounds and just crying. What he talked about was what people thought about him when they looked at him, “I’m gonna give it to you how I live.” That’s the approach. If you’re disrespectful to me, I’ll give that right back. If you think I’m going to rob you, I’ll give it you how I live. That is what we find. When we’re able to explore that and dig deeply...I love seeing the light come on. We had a situation with a white boy and a black boy talking about Michael Brown in “Engaging Authority.”
SIR MMDI is turning on lights and bridging gaps in Birmingham--a necessity for the community’s growth. From its inception, the organization has been youth-focused and youth-driven, with the recognition that young people in Birmingham are the future. Its next big opportunity for involvement is #POPOFF at the Boutwell Auditorium on May 12,2018. For more information, check out their website, www.sirmmdi.org.