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Emanuel moves to deliver on promise to boost mentoring program

Students at Chicago's Harper High School gather around Tim Jackson to start a meeting of the Becoming a Man program last year. | Sun-Times file photo

With a $3 million cash infusion from the city, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is moving quickly to deliver on his promise to prevent another “lost generation” of young men from falling prey to the allure of street gangs blamed for a 50 percent surge in homicides and shootings.

One week after making a three-year, $36 million mentoring program a cornerstone of his citywide campaign against violence, Emanuel has set aside the cash to bankroll an immediate expansion of Becoming A Man, the program with the best track record for results.

Also known as BAM, Becoming A Man served 2,700 students in the last school year and has seen crimes fall and graduation rates soar among its participants.

Now, the program will add room for nearly 1,400 more students — a total of 4,080. That will help deliver on the mayor’s promise to provide a mentor to every one of the 7,200 eighth-, ninth- and tenth-grade boys in Chicago’s 20 most violent neighborhoods.

On Nov. 7, 19 more schools will climb aboard the BAM bandwagon.

The list includes nine high schools: Back of the Yards; Banner Academy West; Michele Clark; North-Grand; Al Raby; Paul Robeson; Simeon Career Academy South Shore International and Team Englewood. The other 10 are elementary schools: Perkins Bass; Brunson; Burnside Scholastic Academy; Cesar Chavez; Arthur Dixon; James Hedges Fine & Performing Arts; Benjamin E. Mays; Alfred Nobel; Harriet Beecher Stowe; Spencer Technology Academy.

“We know this stuff works. When young people have an opportunity to engage with people invested in them who take the time to understand their needs, hopes and dreams, they feel more connected and more empowered,” BAM Director A.J. Watson told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Mentorship is a critical part of a young person’s transition into adulthood. Every kid needs a guide. Putting a caring adult squarely in the lives of each of these young men at such an important stage is a strong message that these young kids matter and these communities matter. It’s important to the city of Chicago. It’s not just a reduction in violence, but their long- term success.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has touted the Becoming A Man program before. He's shown here in 2013 announcing a new round of investments in mentoring, after-school and summer programs at Harper High School. | Sun-Times file photo

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has touted the Becoming A Man program before. He’s shown here in 2013 announcing a new round of investments in mentoring, after-school and summer programs at Harper High School. | Sun-Times file photo

Emanuel has challenged corporate donors to meet the city half-way in the drive to provide $36 million in mentoring programs over the next three years.

Already, the city has received $7 million in contributions. They include: $3 million from Exelon; $1.5 million from Peoples Gas; $500,000 from Bank of America and another $50,000 from its chief financial officer Paul C. Reilly; $1 million from Jimmy Johns owner and founder Jimmy Liautaud and an additional $1 million from Get In Chicago.

Earlier this year, researchers from the University of Chicago Crime Lab, Northwestern University, Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania compared about 4,800 BAM students with peers in regular school programs.

They found that violent-crime arrests were cut in half and arrests for all types of crime fell 35 percent among the BAM students. Those declines were not “persistent” after they cycled out of the BAM program. Nevertheless, high-school graduation rates rose 19 percent among the same BAM kids.

BAM may be the flavor of the month. But, it’s not the only mentoring program targeted for city investment dollars.

The search is on for other programs with a “track record for improving youth outcomes” to be bankrolled by a fund managed by the city’s Department of Family and Support Services in partnership with the U of C Crime Lab. An application-based competition is expected to launch later this year.

After his much-anticipated speech at Malcolm X College, Emanuel took some heat from community activists for focusing too heavily on the two-year police hiring surge that’s expected to trigger the hiring of 970 police officers over the next two years over and above the number needed to keep pace with retirements.

By moving quickly on the mentoring front, the mayor is trying to show that his efforts go deeper than that.

“We made a promise to our next generation that we, as a city, would collectively tackle some of our biggest challenges and we are delivering on that promise with more opportunities for our youth to succeed,” the mayor was quoted as saying in a press release.

“Important investments in mentoring that have the power to turn young people’s lives around cannot wait for the next budget season.”

In the Malcolm X College speech, Emanuel steered clear of directly confronting the issue of absentee fathers in African-American families in the harsh terms he has used during private previews with stakeholders.

But, he has been graphic in describing what’s at stake.

“Character counts. I believe in giving our kids a foundation. … I’ve seen what Becoming a Man, My Brother’s Keep, A Hundred Black Men can provide youth with that foundation so they can make good decisions,” the mayor said on the day before delivering his most important speech since his apology for the police shooting of Laquan McDonald.

“The Vice Lords are ready to be a mentor. Is Chicago ready to a mentor? The Gangster Disciples [are] ready to be a role model. Is Chicago ready to be a role model? The [Four]-Corner Hustlers are ready to be a family. Is the city of Chicago ready to be a family?…You give the kids of Chicago a positive alternative with a caring adult, they’ll go the positive route.”