Leo Cromartie needed a listening ear.
The Renaissance High School student had relatives and peers as part of his inner circle, but not the kind of helpful confidant he wanted when he felt compelled to share concerns or get advice.
Through the Bing Youth Institute he found a match.
As one of 100 mentees paired with 100 mentors, Leo considers himself fortunate to take part in one of Detroit’s fastest-growing programs supporting young men. In just 18 months, the Institute, founded by ex-mayor Dave Bing, expanded from outreach at four Detroit Public Schools to 15 metro Detroit campuses, where one-hour weekly interactions are held.
“We’re really excited about it,” Bing says. “The response has been extremely positive.”
Cromartie jumped at the chance to get involved.
“A couple things interested me in the program,” he says. “First, I wanted someone else to talk to. Sometimes my parents don’t really understand where I’m coming from, and I believed a mentor would help with that. I also was very interested in doing something outside of school.”
Along with its school-based component, the Institute’s Boys Inspired through Nurturing, Growth and Opportunities (BINGO) program sponsors bi-monthly outings for participants like Leo, giving them cultural exposure to museums and art venues, plus professional interaction with corporate leaders at Detroit companies.
“One of the reasons for that is that 70 percent of the boys had never been to downtown Detroit,” Bob Warfield, executive director, says of the outings, which include sporting events.
“We do things like that,” he says, “but in addition to that we do a presentation, ‘Beyond the Court,’ and we show them what happens behind the scenes on the business side of sports teams. We try to give them more views of their future than being an athlete or being a rapper. We try to expose them to opportunities they might have never been a part of.”
Along with social emotional development through BINGO, the mentoring process is designed to positively impact school attendance, behavior and academic achievement. Mentors are largely recruited from among program sponsors like the UAW-Ford, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Comerica Bank.
Targeting black youth for programming has yielded success and next year’s program will expand to include Latinos, Warfield says. Grades seven through 11 will be eligible.
Terry Edwards, a Henry Ford Hospital therapist, says he’s glad he was matched with Leo through the program.
“The thing I find most fulfilling about my experience as a Bing mentor is knowing that I am impacting a young African American man’s life for positive change,” says Edwards. “I find it interesting because change and growth have been two-fold, part for my mentee and the other part for myself. There is so much occurring in society with youth today, I sometimes find myself lost to a world of negativity, but after having conversation, doing activities, and having a strong bond with my mentee, I am reminded of the optimism that does exist and the critical need for engagement that cultivates and facilitates self-worth and pride.”
Edwards says he and Leo have a genuine bond, adding “I never thought we would be this close, and so quickly.”
“At the end of the day I can say without hesitation that I have formed a true relationship with my mentee. He’s not just my mentee, he’s my little brother. That’s the fulfilling experience,” he says.
Cromartie says he not only gained in Edwards the confidant he hoped to find when he joined the program, he’s received some life wisdom.
“I really did pick up many lessons from my mentor,” he says. “One is no one is perfect and you shouldn’t beat yourself up about things. You should learn from your mistake and make it a priority to not make that same mistake again.
“The second was always appreciate what you do have. Many people don’t have the things you have and you should always just be appreciative. Everything you have is a blessing and you just need to remember that.”
For more information about Bing Youth Institute please visit http://www.bingyouthinstitute.org/.