OST Voices #16 College Tribe Builds Confidence and Creates Connections for Young Black Men by Jeronique Bartley, Executive Director, College Tribe

OST Blog Series
March 22, 2022
Blog Post

College Tribe exists to improve the young Black male experience in Wards 7 and 8 of Southeast Washington, DC. That’s at the heart of our organization. Young Black men, from low-income sections of Southeast DC, are traditionally more likely to have negative outcomes and experiences growing up in the city. We work hard to change that reality by providing access to mentors, high-quality STEM and arts programs that help them develop work skills, communications skills, family development skills, and everyday life skills. We teach them things that improve their connection to the world around them. We introduce them to experiences they would not otherwise have access to.

In 2007, four Black fathers founded College Tribe. These men had created financial and educational success for themselves and created strong families. But they looked around and saw that a lot of their friends in the same neighborhoods they came from were not having those same outcomes and experiences. These four Black fathers realized that what helped them have a different outcome was mentoring.

So College Tribe began as a mentoring program, and as we realized there was more we could offer our youth, we added a STEM program, an arts program, and a reading program. All of our program growth is based on the needs of our young people. We make sure youth voices are involved 100% in our decision making processes on programming.

Based on feedback from our youth, we’ve worked to help them become better communicators and they’ve seen how that affects every aspect of their lives. Many of our youth participants say they’re shy when they first join College Tribe, or that they’re afraid of being in groups and talking in groups. After being a part of College Tribe, they tell us how much better they’ve become at communicating including handling conflict and knowing how to disagree respectfully. They feel more comfortable communicating in front of people and can go into an environment where they might not feel like they belong and make themselves comfortable in those spaces.

One of our alumni recently told me he started an Information Technology internship and he was pumped. He said his time with College Tribe had helped him prepare for being in meetings and being able to have a voice in those spaces and confidence in his voice. The teamwork skills he developed in our program are still serving him well.

While we work to improve outcomes for Black young men, I am hopeful that city leadership will see nonprofit organizations, including College Tribe as alternative solutions to entering the juvenile Justice system in response to the recent uptick of youth-involved carjackings. We recognize that the more time youth spend participating in OST programs and are engaged in the work we do, the less likely they are to be involved in negative activities. Crime becomes less of an option because they have something more engaging to do. OST programs provide spaces where kids genuinely have something meaningful to do.  Research shows the impact of OST programs on young people, especially those who have adverse childhood experiences on a regular basis. OST programs have done a tremendous job of healing a lot of the pain of those experiences and enabling youth to develop into healthy adults. OST programs offer a safe space to go to and safe people to be around after young people have been in spaces that haven’t been safe emotionally, physically, or mentally.

Young people typically join our programs through our school and community partners. At this time, we partner with DC Public SchoolsCity Center Public Charter Schools, and Covenant Baptist Church. They connect us with youth who they believe would benefit most from participating in our programs. We also welcome referrals from students in the program who have friends or family members who want to join. We also partner with community-based organizations such as Shaw Community CenterProject Create and Game Genius to host activities and events.

While College Tribe is currently funded through private foundations, LEARN24, and individual donations, with more resources we could do so much more for young people. We run this organization with three part-time staff members. With additional support we could increase the number of staff members providing crucial services to DC youth, boost program outreach, and help people understand what our program is and does and how it contributes to the community.

Our big dream, however, would be to invest in the continued development of our mentor program. We would love to be capable of providing youth with one-to-one mentor access. We have found that providing youth with access to positive mentors has been very helpful in accelerating positive outcomes for our youth participants. If we can realize our dream, we can help more young Black men realize their dreams.

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