P.H.O.E.N.I.X. Initiative fostering community for black males

UWGB, PHOENIX InitiativeA program created in 2012 has made recruiting, retaining and increasing graduation rates among black male students of UW-Green Bay its mission. The P.H.O.E.N.I.X. Black Male Initiative was founded by Shawn Robinson, UW-Green Bay American Intercultural Center adviser, and James Coates, UW-Green Bay associate professor of Education, as an outlet for black males on campus to gather and increase the likelihood of their success.

Brick by brick

Shawn Robinson

Shawn Robinson

The P.H.O.E.N.I.X. (Preeminent, Holistic, Opportunity for Engaging New Ideas in Excellence) Black Male Initiative is in its formative years, but Robinson is working diligently to continue the Initiative’s early success.

He references the adage that even Rome wasn’t built in a day.

“We need to do better as a community and we’ll continue to go through trials and tribulations,” Robinson said. “We’re a pretty new organization, it won’t be built overnight, but this program has great implications for this campus and even state.”

In 2012, an article published within the Almanac of Higher Education, showed that “out of bachelor’s (164,844), master’s (76,458), and doctoral degrees (10,417) awarded to blacks, black males respectively earned 34.1%, 28.9%, and 34.8 respectively.” UW-Green Bay faces similar statistics — from fall 1997- fall 2006, only 35 black males enrolled. Of those, 21 stayed on until the following fall and 15 graduated from UW-Green Bay in six years or less, according to the University’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment.

In order to retain more black males, the P.H.O.E.N.I.X. Initiative seeks to foster a stronger community among a small number of students who are eager to succeed but often lack a sense of belonging, Robinson said.

“It’s really just an opportunity for the guys to get together each week and allow them to talk about things that impact them academically, socially or about their careers,” Robinson said, “our objective is to show them how they can be successful at this campus.”

Calling other campuses for advice

The members of UW-Green Bay’s P.H.O.E.N.I.X. Initiative have held Skype video chats with similar organizations both close to home and elsewhere across the country. When UW-Green Bay’s Initiative shares ideas and asks questions of similar organizations, it gives members throughout its ranks hope for a stronger black male community at UW-Green Bay, Robinson said.

“So often, we find that problems that our black males are facing similar problems as those from other colleges,” Robinson said. “We’ve Skyped with the University of Ohio and UW-Oshkosh; it helps the guys to figure out how to navigate educational institutions as a black male.”

Therapy and culture shock

Issues facing UW-Green Bay’s black male community can be daunting at times and Javaris Bradford, a freshman Psychology major, knows that the value of venting with trusted peers can have therapeutic effects.

“We come together and have a therapy session sometimes,” Bradford said, “but we don’t allow ourselves to cry about it too long. We say, well, you know the issue — now make a difference.”

Group members also engage each other by reading and responding to academic literature related to issues that affect black men on college campuses. Because the black male population is small at UW-Green Bay, a typical weekly meeting might consist of only five or six people. That doesn’t stop attendees from enjoying camaraderie.

“Bonding within minority groups on any campus is important,” Bradford said. “Post-secondary institutions can be very intimidating when you don’t think anyone can relate to you.”

Often, the black men of UW-Green Bay come from Milwaukee, Chicago or other urban centers. The move from an urban center to the suburbs can have negative consequences. Speech patterns and surroundings often become the reason for relocation or discontinuing higher education all together, Bradford said.

“When you come from a place where, not only do you look differently, you sound different too,” Bradford said, “that can be intimidating, there are so many things that go into it, and many people start to feel inferior.”

Mentoring

One way to teach others how to reach goals while attending institutions of higher education is to blaze the path and show the way. Faculty member Coates, the Institute’s co-director, is highly regarded by all the members of the P.H.O.E.N.I.X. Initiative as a mentor and leader, group members said.

“I have moments where I don’t want to study, but Dr. Coates is such a great motivator, and he reminds me what level of education I could get to if I just keep at it,” Bradford said. “I’m extremely grateful for Dr. Coates.”

Leadership within the P.H.O.E.N.I.X. Initiative is strong and growing stronger. Bradford said having influential leaders at the top of the organization is important, but helping your peers and creating an atmosphere of respect can prove just as vital.

“If you can’t find a group of people who are like you and are succeeding, your odds of success aren’t as good,” Bradford said. “You’ve got to have examples to look up to.”

The future

Both Robinson and Bradford say the need to increase UW-Green Bay’s minority enrollment is of great importance. A diverse student body allows people the opportunity to learn about other perspectives and cultures.

“We have to interact with one another — that is the only way we can become tolerant of one another,” Bradford said. “Otherwise, racial coexistence won’t truly happen.”

Other goals for the group include offering increased academic support for the black men of UW-Green Bay. The P.H.O.E.N.I.X. Initiative also is exploring how to better prepare its members for leadership positions.

Its current programming includes a Brotherhood Retreat, community service opportunities, meet-and-greet bowling, women’s appreciation breakfast, Black History Month events and the black male alumni and community event. As the organization grows, members hope to increase attendance during these events as more and more black men call UW-Green Bay home.

The next weekly meeting for the P.H.O.E.N.I.X. Initiative will be from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, April 25 in the Heritage Room of the University Union, and the final meeting of the semester will be held at the same time and place Thursday, May 2. Although the group exists to increase opportunity for growth among black men of UW-Green Bay, Bradford said the meetings are open to anyone who wants to contribute to the dialogue.

“I would invite any young man on campus to visit one of our meetings — not just black men, but males of any race. Our Initiative would only grow from more perspectives.” Bradford said. “Every year this program will grow and it will only help to serve the minority students throughout our campus.”

More information about the P.H.O.E.N.I.X. Black Male Initiative is available online.

— Story by James Taylor, Marketing and University Communication intern