Mentorship programs focusing on the growth and positive development of African-American males are still somewhat uncommon. With a busy and stressful world around us, having a successful mentoring program for our youth is not only a blessing to the community, but also something to be recognized and talked about. Mentoring is good for both adults and the youth they serve.

Den Brothers (a program of The Doorstep Foundation), led by Executive Director Andre “Debonaire” McNeal and his wife Dr. Zakia Robbins-Mcneal (Chief Operations Officer), is one answer to mentoring for African American young men in three Minnesota counties- Hennepin, Ramsey, and Dakota. McNeal, a 51-year-old father, husband, and native of Chicago, IL, has developed a strategy to reach the youth where they are, accepting them as they are and then providing them with new opportunities. The ‘brothers’ are able to get help academically and to meet men and women who look like them and come from similar backgrounds and experiences.

Currently entering its sixth year, Den Brothers at large has partnered with Friendship Academy of the Arts (located in South Minneapolis) by hosting an extended day learning program from 4:30p.m. to 5:30p.m. McNeal’s longest running group hosts 25 boys the 1st and 3rd Tuesday of every month in North Minneapolis.

McNeal proudly said, “We mentor boys on a consistent basis and we work with them on a number of skills- social, emotional, behavioral, and etiquette. We are helping our boys achieve their goals by being there [throughout] their life... consistently.”

According to www.mentoring.org, “Mentoring, at its core, guarantees young people that there is someone who cares about them, assures them they are not alone in dealing with day-to-day challenges, and makes them feel like they matter. Research confirms that quality mentoring relationships have powerful, positive effects on young people in a variety of personal, academic, and professional situations... yet, one-in-three young people will grow up without this critical asset.’

Mentoring can be fun for both adults and youth. Some of the 2021 field trips and events that Den Brothers experienced include:

  • Visit to the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery
  • Fishing at Powerhorn Lake
  • Community service cleanup at Camp Parsons with Phyillis Wheatley Community Center
  • A sailing trip on Lake Bde Maka Ska with Minneapolis Sailing Center
  • Site visit at Truce Center with Miki Frost
  • A construction site visit from Tri-Construction owned by Lester Royal and Calvin Littlejohn
  • CPR training and certification courtesy of Chief Tyner and the Minneapolis Fire Department

Engaging youth is about sharing yourself and showing them how to positively and maturely navigate life’s ups and downs. McNeal told Insight News, “We want the community to know [The Doorstep Foundations] motto: ‘We have the ability to solve all problems that fall on our doorstep.’ That is what we are teaching our boys- to try to be self-sufficient. [We also] teach the boys the importance of having a network, building a network, and staying connected in a positive way.” Relationship building is at the core of the Doorstep Foundation and Den Brothers.

Some of these network building activities include future college tours with North Hennepin Community College Tour through the leadership of Nerita Griffin Hughes; and last month (November 18-21), some of the young scholars took an Historical Black College and University tour to Morehouse, Clark, Tuskegee, and the Museum of Alabama via help from Elizer Darris.

McNeal and his team at The Doorstep Foundation think it is important for everyone to get involved on some level to help save our children and change the [trajectory] of our communities. “It is not our children’s fault. It is our fault. We must do better. We can do better,” he said.

Although mentoring agencies catering specifically to African American Youth are uncommon, but needed, there is an opportunity in three Minnesota counties for adults, and child children, to get involved with mentoring catered to them and specifically for them. For ore information, on the Den Brothers, follow them on Facebook.

Don’t forget: every kid needs a mentor and that mentor could be you.

Brandi D. Phillips is a freelance writer, health enthusiast, mother of 2, life partner and lover of adventure. If you have any questions or concerns about this article, please reach out to her at wellifethreesixty@gmail.com.

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