There is no point in sugar coating it, male African-American students struggle mightily at Southwestern College. Barely two percent of the student population, barely three percent transfer.
Black Brothers Leadership Association (B²LA) is fighting back. B²LA is group of twelve male African American students, friends and colleagues gathered to support and mentor each other, according to counselor Abdishakur Omar.
Omar said the program helps to connect SWC’s male African-American students into a supportive cohort. He said he hopes it improves their alarming failure rates.
“African-American males have the lowest graduation persistence and transfer rate at Southwestern College, with statistics putting them at roughly 3 to 4 percent,” he said. “Meaning for 100 students coming here for a four to six year span, we only graduate three.”
While programs like UMOJA (Swahili for “unity”) and the athletics department offer support to African-American students, B²LA is aimed at students who have no systemic connections, said Omar.
“We know that they’re the most vulnerable population,” he said. “How can we help them become successful?”
Nathaniel Galloway, 21, a computer science major, said he is a fan. He has been a member of B²LA since the program’s inception last semester and said it has been a great motivation for him.
“(B²LA has helped me) to excel in what I’m doing, and to branch out and look at other possibilities,” he said. “It also teaches me how to mentor others in a way I would have never known I could.”
B²LA has already helped Kenneth McCall, a finance major, transfer to the University of San Diego. He said the program’s support, and motivation were essential.
“I joined kind of at the end of my community college career, but honestly I couldn’t have transferred without (B²LA),” he said.
McCall said more students should join.
“We’re starting to establish a presence on campus and we welcome everybody,” he said. “We want to see a lot of people join our group.”
Eyob Solomon, 21, a graphics major, is a new member who said the program and its members are helping him transfer to UC Santa Barbara.
“I used to be like, ‘oh, I’m by myself,’” he said. “Most of these guys have the same family background as I do. I like this club because they’re friendly and it’s just like brothers.”
This is music to Omar’s ears, he said, and motivates him all the more.
“I know just by seeing them here and meeting them here once a week doesn’t fix the issues,” he said. “A lot of times for our student population, it’s more of trying to meet them where they are, but they also want to know how far you can go for them. To see where they can go in order to be successful.”
The group meets on Tuesdays at the Transfer Center to update one another on their weekly academic and social progress.
“We’re checking in with students to see where they’re at,” he said. “Not only classes but their well being. Are they OK? Do they have food? Are things going well for them?”
Omar said the program is an around-the-clock job.
“There are also other hours we put in, outside of our working hours,” he said. “We go above and beyond. We go out on dinners with students, meeting them halfway, volunteering together.”
Carver Bedeau, an auto mechanics major, said B²LA helped him find money for his classes and books after he quit his job to become a full-time student.
“I have a success dream team,” he said. “That is what this group has created for me and a brotherhood of comradery. I always look forward to the group.”
Bedeau said the program allows fellow students to spur each other on.
“This program means an opportunity for black brothers to excel and to rise above our mediocre retention and transfer rate,” he said.
B²LA’s most challenging step is funding, said Omar.
“We are trying to do a lot of fund raising, a lot of grant writing to see if we can secure money from an outside source,” he said. “SWC does not allocate funds to the program and money is gathered wherever it can be found.”
Peter Padilla, a mechanical engineering major, is one of the group’s newest members. He said he would like to see the program expand.
“The next step would be linking up with other schools or possibly starting the same kind of clubs at other community colleges and then staying in contact with the students who transfer out so that we can network with them at bigger universities,” he said. “We could have them collaborate with our smaller schools, just so our students can be better prepared when they move on to bigger schools.”
Bedeau and McCall said they would like B²LA to reach out to the community.
“More leadership, more community service,” said McCall. “Really more involvement. We have our mission statement, a good group of guys. It’s just honing in.”
Galloway said he would like SWC students to learn from each other as well as teachers.
“We are based upon the idea that we can build off of each other and that we can thrive off of each other,” said Galloway. “We are our brother’s keeper.”