The LSU Black Male Leadership Initiative, or LSU-BMLI, has been busy providing insightful, necessary, and hope-filled programs since it was established nearly four years ago. The LSU-BMLI Fellows Program was established to improve the retention, graduation, and participation rates of Black males through academic, social, and personal development.
According to the LSU Office of Budget and Planning, the four-year retention rate of the 180 first-time Black male freshmen enrolled in 2008 was 67 percent. The following year, in 2009, the retention rate for Black male freshmen was 58 percent. One out of two Black male freshmen who enrolled in 2008 graduated in five years and slightly less than one-out-of-two Black male freshmen who enrolled in 2009 graduated in five years.
Currently, LSU-BMLI is defying the odds with its unique and targeted approach to serving Black males at LSU. In 2011, the LSU-BMLI retention rate of the 14 fellows participating in the program was 92 percent. The following year, LSU-BMLI retained 100 percent of the 13 Fellows participating in the program for their first year. Respectfully, the five-year graduation rate for LSU-BMLI Fellows who enrolled as freshman in 2008 was 76 perent. The projected five-year graduation rate for LSU-BMLI Fellows enrolled as freshmen in 2009 and graduating in May 2014 is 71 percent.
In a recent pilot study conducted by LSU-BMLI of current cohort members, most Fellows cited their participation in the program as their reason for returning to LSU.
First-year LSU-BMLI Fellow Tyriq Kellam, a sophomore sports administration major from Philadelphia, Pa., said, “If I were not a part of BMLI or other programs I probably wouldn’t be here, simply because of the cost of out-of-state tuition. With me being a part of BMLI and other programs, I feel a sense of worth in being involved in the LSU community.”
LSU-BMLI is a self-selected program open to all males at LSU, serving 25 to 30 undergraduate males of color per year. Once accepted students become LSU-BMLI “Fellows” who are supported through a cohort model program until the end of their junior year. LSU BMLI accepts between 10 and 12 new Fellows entering their sophomore year (1st–year Fellows) from a growing application pool of LSU Black males who apply the spring of their freshmen year. These new Fellows balance out the existing number of current Fellows entering their junior year (2nd–year Fellows). When Fellows become seniors, they are noted as Alumni Fellows and participate in various alumni based programming and intentional initiatives. Since its inception in 2010, LSU-BMLI has had much success with its cohorts and hopes to expand one day to support any LSU sophomore male student of color.
Recent studies by Ivory Toldson, professor of Education at Howard University, explain there are more students like Kellam, with nearly 1.4 million Black men currently enrolled in colleges and universities as opposed to 840,000 in prison. This is a powerful example of how university sponsored groups like LSU-BMLI are helping to break the statistic.
“The larger question still remains, what additional resources are in place to ensure Black males at LSU persist?” said Vincent Harris, Graduate Coordinator of LSU-BMLI and Graduate Assistant for Equity, Diversity & Community Outreach, or EDCO. “We are fortunate to sustain and support our Fellows through LSU-BMLI on existing resources and staff, however we are always seeking additional opportunities and alumni support to help promote and sustain our impact, reach, and continued growth of our Fellows.”
As of spring 2013, the LSU-BMLI Fellows Program average GPA of 2.908 surpassed the LSU all-male undergraduate average by over one tenth-of-a-point. LSU-BMLI is deliberate in its programming efforts to prepare and expose Fellows to reputable national and international research opportunities resulting in seven McNair Scholars and four participants in national and international competitive research programs at Rutgers University, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, University of Colorado at Boulder, and LSU-Howard Hughes Medical Institute International Consortium French-American workshop held in Grenoble, France.
LSU-BMLI’s emphasis on leadership development has been effective as Fellows hold various leadership positions on campus as Residence Hall Assistants, Student Government Executive Board members, members of Greek life, ROTC, collegiate honor societies, intercollegiate athletics, band and choir, and participation in study aboard opportunities in Australia and Spain.
Additionally, as of May 2014 graduation, 4 out of 10 BMLI alumni will be continuing their education at some of the nation’s most elite graduate programs. LSU-BMLI alum Charles Lewis, a native of Stone Mountain, Ga., graduating with degrees in both microbiology and Spanish, will attend Boston University Dental School in Boston; Nickholas J. Grant, a native of New Orleans, graduating with a degree in psychology, will attend the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology as a National Science Foundation Fellow with $132,000 awarded to support his graduate studies; De-Andre T. Beadle, a native of Houston, graduating with a degree in political science and psychology, recognized by the Office of the Dean of Students as one of twelve outstanding seniors as a member of the 2014 Class of “Tiger Twelve,” will attend the University of Arkansas to pursue a Master of Business Administration degree; and Derrick D. Lathan, a native of Baton Rouge, raduating with a degree in graphic design ,will attend LSU to pursue a doctor of philosophy degree in Sociology.
The remaining six Fellows graduating this spring are awaiting graduate school acceptance and job offers, and will announce their decision at the Inaugural “LSU-BMLI Signing Day” on Monday, April 28, at the LSU African American Cultural Center.
Roland Mitchell, associate professor in the College of Human Sciences & Education and director of the Louisiana Summit on African American Male Educational Success, noted that colleges have an educational responsibility to prepare all students but particularly Black males.
“Too often we hear of the impact of the school-to-prison pipeline on Black males,” he said. “Programs like LSU-BMLI show us that with continued support and guidance, ideals deeply rooted in communities of color, we can change this narrative and celebrate students such as the BMLI Fellows who are doing outstanding work. We hope to continue the conversation this fall with the next Summit as we seek to broaden the conversation and action around this critical issue.”
In the fall of 2013, LSU-BMLI hosted three major programs structured around personal, social and academic growth, essential development areas for Black male college students. The first program, “A Woman’s Worth: Challenging Our Viewpoints,” allowed LSU-BMLI Fellows to confront existing perspectives on how they and other collegiate aged men view and interact with women. Panel sponsor and Director of LSU Women’s Center, Summer Steib, stated that the LSU Women’s Center is constantly seeking out ways to extend their mission of advancing gender equity.
Steib said, “The Woman’s Worth program was an ideal platform to engage with young men about their perceptions of women, masculinity, femininity, and relationships and how those perceptions have real-life impacts and consequences.”
LSU BMLI-Fellow Travoll Payne, a junior biochemistry major from North Little Rock, Ark., said without the program he would have continued to make the same mistakes regarding his communication style with the women in his life.
“Attending this session enhanced my perception on how to approach a woman appropriately. There is more to a woman than just her physical features, and Black males need to be educated on this issue,” said Payne.
Not only did the LSU-BMLI Fellows hear first-hand from women on how to challenge their existing gendered perspectives, they also received first-hand knowledge on how to create and maintain a professional image from Geno Brown, master tailor and co-owner of Brown & Brown Clothiers.
“Suited-4-Success: A Fitting & Dining Social” introduced LSU BMLI-Fellows to proper grooming for professional wear as well as dinning etiquette. Each LSU-BMLI Fellow received a personal fitting from Brown, while he explained how the importance of making a lasting first impression, is indeed true.
“It is keenly important for any man to present himself in the manner in which he would like to be received,” said Brown.
LSU BMLI-Fellow Jordan Hicks, a sophomore mass communication and theater performance major from Lebeau, La., walked away with take-a-ways on how to dress that still impact his weekly routine.
“The Suited-4-Success program taught me some great tips about dressing professionally, including how to properly tie a tie, matching different colors for different events, and how important it is to know your measurements. Ever since the program, I have been more conscious about the clothes that I wear as well as the way that I carry myself as an African American male,” said Hicks.
Brown urged male college students to take full advantage of any opportunity to distinguish themselves and said, “One can dress appropriately on any budget. A person does not have to be wealthy in order to wear properly fitted clothes.”
“A suit is a leader’s uniform,” said LSU BMLI- Fellow Christopher Baron-Hyppolite, a junior majoring in civil engineering from Stroudsburg, Pa. “Being dressed for success helps people understand that Black males are more than just athletes. We are educated, confident, and resilient and we will change the world around us.”
Just as Brown mentored LSU BMLI-Fellows by sharing expertise on how to dress properly in a professional environment, the LSU BMLI-Fellows also served as mentors for a day to more than 200 males of color in grades 7 through 9 from local middle and high schools.
In November, LSU BMLI hosted the third annual LSU BMLI Preview Day for males of color, which demonstrated the program’s commitment to mentorship and community service. Preview Day is designed to provide young males of color with insight into college life, encourage preparation for college while still in middle or high school, and highlight the experiences of Black college men at LSU.
The day included a campus tour, information session from the Office of Undergraduate Admissions & Student Aid and a tour the Cox Communications Academic Center for Student-Athletes. Participating Baton Rouge schools included Donaldsonville High School, Arlington Preparatory Academy, THRIVE Baton Rouge, Beechwood Superintendent’s Academy, Glen Oaks Middle School, Christa McAuliffe Superintendent’s Academy, Scotlandville Magnet High School, and Baton Rouge Youth Coalition. This year, three New Orleans Schools – McDonough 35 College Preparatory High School, De La Salle High School and Sci Academy – also participated in Preview Day.
Visiting schools participated in an interactive panel lead by LSU-BMLI Fellows; LSU Alumnus Barry Whittington; and Kourtney Gray, second year doctoral student in Higher Education.
Gray explained that programs such as Preview Day are important methods to remind young Black males of their full potential. He shared, “Because young Black men are being seen in a positive light, it helps to demystify the college acquisition process.”
“Preview Day means we are making a conscious and concerted effort to break the school to prison pipeline for our Black males. We are showing young men they have worth, and they are worthy of greater things and accomplishments,” said Melvin “Jai” Jackson, graduate student panel facilitator, first year doctoral student in higher education and Louisiana Board of Regents Doctoral Fellow.
LSU-BMLI Fellow Zackari Murphy, a sophomore Biochemistry major from Shreveport, La., said, “Preview Day is a truly exceptional event. It reminds us that our best resources lie not in tangibles, but rather in our fellow man.”
LSU BMLI-Fellow DeQuinten Glenn, a junior Kinesiology major from Mansfield, La., shared that it is essential to see positive representations of the African American men. “Exposing young Black male middle and high school students to a college campus at an early age allows them to bring their goals into focus,” said Glenn.
“The LSU BMLI Preview Day is an opportunity for Black male students to experience the rich opportunities available to them as they begin preparing for college. It is our hope that programs like Preview Day and the BMLI Fellows Program help solidify how attending college, particularly LSU, can provide academically and socially relevant experiences particularly for Black males and other students of color,” said Chaunda Allen, assistant to the vice provost for equity, diversity and community outreach; director of multicultural affairs; and director of the LSU BMLI-Fellows Program.
“These programs embody the truth behind Black men; we are smart, capable, talented, and successful,” said Jackson.
LSU BMLI Preview Day was made possible by the Office of Equity, Diversity & Community Outreach and the Office of Multicultural Affairs with support from a host of campus and external partners, including the LSU Women’s Center, LSU Auxiliary Services, E. J. Ourso College of Business, College of Engineering, College of Science, Manship School of Mass Communication, Honors College, the Nu Psi Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., the Iota Tau Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., Office of Communications & University Relations, Center for Academic Success, Office of Undergraduate Admissions & Student Aid, African American Cultural Center Ambassadors, Chase Bank, and Cox Communications Academic Center for Student Athletics.
The LSU Black Male Leadership Initiative Fellows Program is a retention and leadership development program established by the LSU Office of Equity, Diversity & Community Outreach and the Office of Multicultural Affairs. For more information or to support BMLI, contact Chaunda Allen at 225-578-4339, or Vincent Harris by email at email@example.com or visit the BMLI website at www.lsu.edu/bmli.