by Samantha Byles
“The best way I think is to look for things that interest them,” said Anthony Martin, the founder of What it Takes (WIT), a Philadelphia-based e-mentoring program aimed specifically at connecting at-risk Black male students with successful Black men.
“A lot of programs out there now don’t interest the boys, so they don’t look for them as an opportunity to change. My program introduces students into different types of success stories that attract a wide range of boys,” Martin said.
In January 2011, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation awarded Martin a $491,652 grant for WIT. With the money, Martin expanded the program – which first began as a symposium-style initiative where he held forums for students of Mastery Charter Schools and several District schools – to an e-mentoring program that is now available to those same students.
The program, which officially launched last November, pairs professional African American men with Black male students who are struggling with academic and personal achievement. The goal of the program is to build relationships between the two so that the students can excel.
Having worked in sports management in the past, Martin used his connections to recruit athletes to serve as panelists for the symposiums and mentors. He also solicited help from several entrepreneurs and military personnel. About 96 men have spoken in the various forums. Fifty of them are currently acting as mentors in the online program. Working with the District, Martin was able to identify 200 Black male students to become mentees.
Students participate by engaging in chat room styled discussions and email with their mentors. There is also an online curriculum that encourages students to open up about their everyday lives by giving them the freedom to ask challenging questions of their mentors.
In return, mentors provide answers and feedback drawing on their own unique perspectives and ideas about how to approach situations. Martin said students are given the opportunity to think about topics they may never have thought about before such as going to college and saving money.
What it Takes is an outgrowth of Martin’s Urban Youth Racing School, an initiative he started in 1998, that enrolls at-risk boys and girls in a motor- and technology-based career training program.
While it targeted at-risk students, Martin wanted to reach a broader audience beyond students interested in cars and racing. He wanted to focus on Black male students, in particular, so he created WIT to meet that goal.
Martin said he plans to hold three WIT symposiums this year, one of which he hopes will be televised.
Until then, he continues to look for more mentors for the program.
“[With e-mentoring,] it doesn’t require a lot of time. It’s once a week, for an hour or two, and mentees can become comfortable with their mentors and trust them enough to get out of their shells, open up, and ask questions,” he said.