For five hours on March 19, a group of 22 Stephenson Middle School boys received a lesson in manhood.
As part of author John Dennis’ pilot ManMade Mentoring Program, the group scrubbed, scraped, washed, mopped and swept four Stephenson Middle School bathrooms. The 22 middle school students were joined by Dennis and six mentors in the cleanup effort.
“This is the first of many efforts by these young men to improve themselves and the area around them,” said Dennis. “All of the boys stayed from start to finish. Space was tight, but some guys even asked for more work to do.”
Dennis said the 22 students cleaned, stripped and scraped away paint chips before painting over vulgar drawings and language lining the bathroom walls. The students then took a pledge to serve as bathroom monitors to ensure such graffiti is never on walls of the school latrines again.
“These young men are entertaining the idea they are the ones responsible for change,” Dennis said.
“[Principal Carolyn Williams] came back with rewards for the boys, but I know the internal rewards were far better for them.”
Such initiative stems from Dennis’s pilot mentoring program, ManMade Mentoring, in which 524 Stephenson Middle School boys were talked to in a group setting, put into 12 separate focus groups and asked what changes they would like to see in school.
“A lot of the major complaints included the bathrooms,” Dennis said. “A lot of students and teachers said other boys were destroying the bathrooms. Either way, I wanted to stress that casting blame never solves anything; it only matters who is going to take responsibility.”
Dennis said ManMade Mentoring seeks to tackle the issue of single-parent families with little to no male influence. The Eatonton, Ga., native and author of Men Raised by Women has been looking for avenues to share his work and message since December 2015, eventually finding success at Stephenson Middle.
“From my research, 75 percent of [Black] children are growing up in single-parent households,” Dennis said. “When I asked the 524 [Stephenson Middle] students how many of them lived in single parent households, 80 to 85 percent of them raised their hands.”
According to Dennis, mentoring can instill values such as self-respect, responsibility and accountability in young men. He said ManMade Mentoring is one third journaling, one third goal setting, and one third measurements. Students journal their own definitions and opinions on certain terms, share them with relevant adults in their life such as a parent or teacher, and create goals surrounding them.
The Georgia author, businessman and Air Force veteran said the workbook accompanying his program is something that can serve as a lifetime reference tool.
“This is a developmental mission, not just a one-time thing,” Dennis said. “You have some young guys dealing with very difficult home lives and that requires a lot of mentor interaction. It’s going to stir up some things, but they need to be stirred up. A lot of help is needed in a lot of homes.”
Dennis said it takes two sessions to fully explain the program to potential mentors. From there, they work through a book to learn how to make a positive impact. The author’s goal is to train 40-50 mentors in four more DeKalb County schools to make the most impact in DeKalb County youth.
“We’re focusing on middle school students first,” Dennis said. “Young men going through puberty are much more apt to join with someone in order to form an identity. By the time students reach high school, it’s kind of after the fact; they’re treated as adults, some of them have criminal backgrounds, and a lot of their forming has already taken place. We’re trying to reach them before.”
The author said the three-year program, if applied to at least 524 students, will help transform whichever high school is attended and work its way into the community.
Dennis explained his expertise comes from a lifetime of mentoring. He mentored, and was mentored, during 10 years of service in the United States Air Force; he mentored at his church; he mentored in prisons and work release programs. However, Dennis states the majority of his expertise stems from his own single parent childhood.
“I was in the same lane as all these young men,” Dennis said. “I grew up with a lot of distance from my father. I was a straight ‘A’ student; I walked the good line, but I struggled significantly. I lacked masculine skills. I was a good kid, and the good kid often gets neglected, as energy is put into reforming other kids.”
Dennis said the difference between his advice and advice written by other professionals, preachers, gurus and leaders is simple.
“You can find single parent help books and programs written by all types,” Dennis said. “But you can’t find one written by the affected boy.”
For more information on Dennis and the ManMade Mentoring Program, visit www.johnpdennis.com
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