June 2021

Scholars on the Black Men's Success Initiative fall retreat
Scholars on the Black Men's Success Initiative fall retreat

When it comes to creating greater educational opportunity at private colleges, the Black Men’s Success Initiative does exactly that. This leadership and professional development program provides scholarship support along with enriching experiences for Black men attending Minnesota’s private colleges, developing their leadership skills and helping them succeed in post-graduate endeavors.

“It is important to have a program like this where I’ve seen successes, with African-American men graduating from school and acquiring great jobs,” said Jamil Stamschror-Lott, project consultant and a Minneapolis-based community and mental health advocate.

The Minnesota Private College Fund organizes the Initiative with two main funders — the Ciresi Walburn Foundation for Children and the Jay and Rose Phillips Family Foundation. Each supports separate cohorts of men, who start the summer before their junior year. More than 87 men from seven different private colleges have taken part.

Robert Adams and Isaac Mamboleo
Left to right: Augsburg University scholars Robert Adams and Isaac Mamboleo

Raised in St. Paul’s Como Park, Robert Adams desired a close-knit community and a big-city atmosphere, which he found at Augsburg University. As a second year Ciresi-Walburn Scholar, he values the program mentors who have motivated him both personally and professionally.

He appreciates how this opportunity has elevated his voice and taught him how to express his thoughts openly — lessons he plans to use as a business management major.

“Being there as a resource for me to ask them anything and their enthusiasm for our success is what I appreciate,” Adams said about the mentors. “Sometimes, you can have self-motivation, but it is just an extra plus when it’s coming from a place other than yourself. Show initiative, be mindful and take notes. Whatever you put in is what you’re going to get out of it.”

As a mentor, Stamschror-Lott sees the impact this kind of scholarship program in addressing educational disparities due to systemic and cultural racism that persist in society. Drawing upon his own lived experiences, he aims to build authentic relationships with students, so they feel comfortable in their personal identities. 

“Racial socialization is understanding and believing in your social identity as a Black person, which is hard in the context of this country. Often, we are conditioned to have a white frame of reference, so this helps Black identity development to form a positive, racialized perspective of yourself,” Stamschror-Lott said.

The program’s first year consists of a fall retreat, being custom fitted for professional suits at a “dress for success” event and going to the Big Twelve Black Student Leadership Conference. During this time, they get resume advice, are prepared for internship interviews and take the Clifton Strengths Assessment. All of this prepares them for long-term career readiness. “There have been networking opportunities that many would have had low exposure to. The possibilities seem endless,” Stamschror-Lott said.

Originally from Long Island, New York, Noel Patterson recently graduated from St. Olaf College where he was an Eddie Phillips Scholar. Patterson found a home in the St. Olaf music department as a vocal performance major, yet still craved a reliable brotherhood he could grow close to during his college years. He still values the genuine relationships he has built with fellow scholars, knowing that they have each other’s support as they pursue their dreams.

“Relationships are always key. I was always scared to ask for help, but with this brotherhood, I have guys who I can rely on. We have gotten so close, and I even had couple come to my junior recital. Relationships are how you build your network,” Patterson said.

The program kicks off in the summer with a leadership course taught by Abdul Omari, founder of AMO Enterprise, who also serves as one of the mentors in the program. A new group of 30 men started the current summer course this June.

“There is a need around the lack of Black men in higher education, which continues to be a crisis,” Omari said. “Certainly, the research I had done for my Ph.D. informed the approach we took for this program. We do a major assignment on their personal leadership journey…during this time, they are getting resume and interviewing help and professional development.”

In the second year, students are placed in full-time summer internships that are closely aligned with their career aspirations. The program provides full funding for internships that are not paid by an organization or company, so students can gain valuable work experience while also being compensated. Once they are seniors, they receive support to pursue their ambitious dreams of going to grad school or entering the workforce.

“We need programs like this because the outcomes are drastically different for people of color and folks who are white. Those who come from communities of color and lower socioeconomic status have no idea how to navigate these processes,” Omari said. “This program is so multi-faceted because the idea that if it could help more people reach the finish line by graduating and with as little debt as possible, that would be great.”

Cottage Grove native Isaac Mamboleo is also a Ciresi-Walburn Scholar. Even though he almost chose the University of Minnesota, he ultimately committed to Augsburg University, where he plays football and will major in exercise science with a pre-med track. Mamboleo understands the importance of representation in health care and feels encouraged by his network to become a leader in his field. This drive compels him to give back to the youth in his community, wanting to affirm their dreams and aspirations, just as this program has done for him.

“We have learned a lot about ourselves and how we can be better leaders. We have a lot to bring to the table in a lot of aspects that people haven’t experienced, ideas we might have that other people haven’t, just based on what we’ve been through. That’s what puts us apart from other people,” Mamboleo said. “Accept all that you have to give and use it to your advantage.”

By Monali Bhakta