Given MTV's powerful influence in shaping self-image, the value of helping African American youth develop a deep understanding of their roots can't be overemphasized, says Greg Evans, coordinator of Lane Community College's African American Rites of Passage Summer Academy in Eugene, Ore.
"They are desperately in search of an identity," Evans says. "These students don't have a frame of reference to build a positive self-image."
The mission of the Rites of Passage Summer Academy for African Americans is to help Black teens establish strong identities and make enduring connections -- to heritage, community and to college -- in a predominately White environment. The program also is an integral component of Lane's recruitment and retention strategy for students of color.
"This experience is a way to connect these students with their heritage, explore higher education, and network with the community and each other," Evans says.
It's also a way to intervene in the lives of Black teens who might be at risk of dropping out of school, using drags or engaging in criminal activity, program instructors say.
Rites of Passage, a four-week session in July and August on Lane's campus, is built on the premise that helping minority students develop positive values and beliefs will increase their opportunities for success. With the help of self-development exercises, literary arts, history classes and career planning workshops, the instructors hope that the students leave with a better sense of their rich heritage and culture and feel capable of earning college degrees and building satisfying fives and careers.
Evans launched the program in 1996. Since then, 115 young African American students have successfully completed the program. Last year, Evans helped introduce the Asian, Asian American Rites of Passage Summer Academy. And this summer, the academy is offering Umista Native American and Puertas Abiertas (Latino) programs, an expansion that reflects overwhelming support from the board of education, local schools, parents and the community, despite a year of drastic budget cuts on campus.
Bob Ackerman, chairman of the Lane Community College Board of Education in Eugene, says the Rites of Passage program was "on the chopping block" a year ago. When the motion to cut the program went before the budget committee, Ackerman read the college's diversity statement to the committee members and suggested that all diversity efforts at the college would be hypocritical if the Rites of Passage program was eliminated. He had heard enough student testimony to understand this intervention program was offered early enough so that "some young fives have been turned around" as a result of participating in the program. At what age do you begin to save kids from an identity crisis, he asked. The program was saved, and the budget for the new Asian, Asian American program also was approved.
`YOU BELONG HERE'
Studies of ethnic history and cultural traditions frame each program's curricula so that each is distinctive in its own right. Yet the students in all four academies mingle socially, attend classes together, and participate in a variety of multicultural events. This summer, 25 students ages 12 to 18 will participate in the four programs and will receive high school credit for their involvement.
Programs such as Rites of Passage, often referred to as intervention programs, may be even more important in predominantly White communities such as Eugene and neighboring Springfield, which together have a combined population of about 170,000. The Ku Klux Klan maintained a strong presence in the area's history for decades, and few Blacks settled here.
Even today, opportunities to connect with other African Americans are few. Eugene 4J School District's African American population is 2.65 percent of total enrollment in grades K-12, and the nearby Springfield School District has an African American population of 1. …