Over the past 18 months I’ve written articles about nonprofits of all sorts and have been continually amazed by the depth and breadth of nonprofit work in the New Orleans area. I have written about everything from residential facilities for young children who have been abused in their own homes, to cultural outreach programs, to organic farms.
Although their missions, resources and constituencies may vary, there are recurring themes and motifs that bind them all, with the concept of mentoring topping the list. Opening a young person’s world by connecting him or her with positive role models within the community has the power to be profoundly transformative. Nowhere is this idea more notable than in the work of the Silverback Society.
The Alpha Male
Founded in 2007 by Lloyd Dennis and the late Pastor Arthur Wadsworth, the Silverback Society is a group of African-American men who, in partnership with selected schools, are committed to providing a systemic mentoring program for middle school boys. With a name that alludes to the powerful presence of the alpha male, the Society’s mission evolved from the core belief that, in order to reach their full potential in life, it’s an absolute imperative that boys engage with positive male role models. The Silverback Society website highlights a Frederick Douglass quote that illuminates the Society’s mission: “It is easier to raise healthy children than to fix broken men.” With that in mind, the Silverback Society helps boys find their way to an adult life that’s fulfilling and that will, in turn, inspire future generations to follow suit.
One Boy At a Time
The program began at the Murray Henderson Elementary School with Beverly Irving Jelks, who was the principal at the time, playing a significant role in the evolution of the Society as it stands today. The process by which the Society operates hinges on volunteer mentors who, after careful screening and training, commit to spending one hour in the classroom each week for 20 weeks, with multiple mentors assigned to each school.
The program model is intentionally regimented; the methodology is specifically planned, repeatable and teachable. Each mentor faithfully abides by and espouses the tenants of the group, and all parties enter into an agreement that creates a culture of respect and accountability.
Within the participating middle schools, the program is a rite of passage for the oldest class of boys in each school. As they progress through the year and become increasingly engaged with their mentors, the older students begin to change their behavior and, in a testament to the strength of the program model, transform into mentors of sorts to the younger boys.
The Silverback Society is making a difference that goes beyond each boy, each school and each community. One boy at a time, the Silverback Society fosters a cycle of change that supports the boys of today in becoming the men of tomorrow.
The Silverback Ways of the World:
1. Give respect to get respect
2. Teach by example
3. Give your word only when you know you can keep it
4. Use your time to improve something
5. Treat everyone like you will need them tomorrow
6. Become and expert at something
7. Let your light shine for others
The Silverback Society Pledge: “I will live my life as though generations depend on me, and I will teach and encourage all of mine to do the same”
For more information, visit SilverbackSociety.com