When you look at the social climate of Black boys in urban neighborhoods, it is clear that there exists undeniable potential, pure passion and raw talent. Though our little Black boys have lights that shine brilliant and bright, they are often dimmed by the lack of guidance, societal pressures and government-orchestrated traps that lead our young gems to prison cells and early grave plots.
But then there are men like Alfuquan Hardy: Real men who know the struggle, learned how to overcome the ills and woes of being a Black man in America, and are willing to put in the work to help our young brothas do the same. And Al is doing exactly that.
Founder of Newark’s Occupy the Schools, licensed life coach and current Interim Director at the Hillside Community Center in Hillside, New Jersey, the divorced father of 4 is using his experience as a mentor as the foundation for a new initiative aimed at uplifting Black boys across the nation–Mentorship 200. In quest of 200 men to help launch the movement, Al is starting small in Newark, NJ, but plans to expand the program across the States.
Miss CM caught up with the veteran activist for an in-depth interview on the inspiration behind Mentorship 200, what prospective mentors can expect from the program, and why this type of initiative is necessary for not only the development of Black boys, but the betterment of Black men and the Black community at large.
CM: Tell us about this mentoring movement that you’re about to start.
AH: I’ve been doing the work already as a basketball coach [at the Hillside Community Center]. I was the assistant varsity and JV coach. Prior to that, out of college, I had a barbershop, so I was always dealing with men. I went to an all-boys high school, so I was always dealing with men. And one thing that I saw was that we relate differently as men, we communicate differently; but there has been a point where we don’t help each other to go to the next level. So we might help each other on the court, but not outside of the court. We might help each other at the barbershop, talking about a couple of things, but we don’t talk about the important things.
So what I wanted to do with mentoring is disrupt dysfunction.
I like that.
That’s kind of what I wanted to do. Even [at the Hillside Community Center], I stand out here at the end of the school day because I know kids are walking home. They’re going from school to home, and you know around 2:30 to 4:30, 5 o’ clock, these kids can get into anything. So my job is to kind of disrupt that. So even here, I’m trying to put in different programs to help them [stay out of trouble].
I had the program called Occupy the Schools were I had young men, all types of men, they had dope careers. So they would come in the mornings and talk to the kids about their careers.
Where was that based?
That was in Newark [New Jersey]. We had a long shoreman, we had educators. One of my boys, he does marketing with the brand Jordan, so we had a variety of guys–bankers and everything, police officers–and they would come in and talk about their careers and it would open the [young boys’] eyes up because the only perspective that they see is what they see on their phones.
And the streets.
Yeah, in the streets, their phones. And that’s what they’re limited to, so we want to open that up, broaden it. And the next step for me is seeing how we can continue with that conversation. I think that’s key. And I see a lot of women who just have that support naturally. [Like], ‘Girl, what’s up?’ But with guys, we talk about sports. We talk about what’s happening on the court, not what’s happening off the court.
Why do you think men are so closed off emotionally and don’t typically have vulnerable conversations?
It’s taught. Especially as Black men. And even with Latino men. With Latino men, it’s ‘machismo,’ with us [Black American men], it’s about us having our guards up. You know what I mean? Being hard. I think we’re taught to be protective, but we’re not taught to be safe. And there’s a difference.
We’re taught to protect somebody, but we don’t have a safe space for us to share. Safety goes beyond the protection of something. So we have to create that type of environment and community for that. And a lot of times, what women don’t understand is there’s a difference between how we express ourselves and how we relate versus how women do it. So we have to have tools on how to relate to one another.
Do you think Black men are scared to show emotions that they think make them look ‘soft’? Emotions like sadness, pain or fear? Especially in urban environments?
What do you mean?
Meaning outside of their comfort zone. In the home, men are willing to show their emotions with their girl, with their moms. They’re willing to show their emotions there. But when they’re outside of that space, no. [At home] is the only space where you really see guys showing those emotions. So I think we need to get outside of [those comfort zones] because we don’t want to be seen as weak. And it’s not even about vulnerability. It’s about weakness. So I think the next step for us as men is to create those safe spaces for us to talk.
Why is that important?
Like I said before, I was at an all-boys school. Prior to me taking [on the Interim Director of the Hillside Community Center] I taught at a school where we had single gender classes and [men] just learn differently. Men need spaces for men. To be men. [Spaces to improve] how we communicate, how we look at each other, how we give each other high-fives, a hand shake. On how to love each other. We need those spaces–[to learn] how to express ourselves to each other. We need those spaces because when we go beyond the surface, we need those spaces where we could deal with our pain. But we need other men to speak to it.
Men who’ve been through the same experiences?
Yeah. Or just men to pull out [those buried emotions.] Like me and my father. Although we look alike, although I share his DNA, our experiences are totally different. I’m divorced, he’s been married for 40 years. He has two boys. I have have 3 boys and a girl. So, we’re different. But, I can talk to him. And when I talk to him, he helps me see things, not just from a family perspective, but from a man’s perspective. And he’s able to talk to that.
And I think what men need are affirmations and validation from other men. And I think sometimes we look for that from a woman, but when a man validates you–it’s like when a woman gets dressed, a lot of times, women don’t get dressed for the men, they get dressed to kill other women.
[Laughs.] So a lot times we seek validation from the men that are in our lives, and we need that validation from them.
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