What about just receiving validation from yourself, building confidence within yourself? Is that something that you aim to do: teach young men how to not really care about what other people think and just value themselves?
That’s a good question. And, yes. Of course. But, the thing is: You have a mom and you have a dad. So, even though you came into this world and you had your own identity, you still came through people who were supposed to take care of you. And sometimes, what we miss is that the people who were supposed to take care of us haven’t always done the best for us [whether unintentional or not]. So there are some broken pieces in some men, and even some women, that has to be spoken to in order to build them up. Because when you have somebody who has that confidence, it’s usually because there were people who [planted positive seeds in] their life. So what I think we have to understand is that community is so important. The struggle is finding the right community for you. You know what I mean?
If you weren’t born into it and you don’t [naturally have that community], that’s were the struggle comes in. A lot of times people grow up and they move away from home, and they don’t isolate themselves, but they’re just looking for that community that speaks to them. Community is important, and I don’t want people to feel isolated, so I think what we have to do is give our kids, give children, give men and women, the right tools so that when something happens, [they can say] ‘I have the right tools to [improve my life on my own].’ So now if I give you the right tools, you could remember what I said, or you could remember what somebody else said, and now you could build on that.
How exactly is Mentorship 200 going to pan out?
Like I said, men operate differently. So the mindset is for us to work together, and as we’re working together, we can build that relationship amongst ourselves, so now when we come into these young men lives, we can be more effective; it can be organic. We could have a better sense of who each individual is, then we can speak [encouragement] into the kids’ lives effectively. But it’s gonna be steps though.
So is it going to be based at the Hillside Community Center?
No. We’re going to be going around to different schools in Newark. So I’m kind of getting back to Occupy the Schools; we’re going to be going to the schools in the morning time, shaking the guys’ hands, introducing the young men to the men, and then just finding some synergy with the schools and the programs in the schools. And just seeing how we could be effective.
So right now, we’re going to be working with West Side High, [Malcolm X] Shabazz [High School], Barringer [High School], Marion P. Thomas Charter School, and obviously, here [Hillside Community Center].
So mostly in Newark right now?
Yeah because that’s we’re most of my relationships [with school authorities] are.
So how do you plan to expand this initiative outside of Newark and New Jersey? What’s the process going to be? Because you want this to be a nationwide thing, so how’s that going to work?
The process is to be effective first. It’s really about working on disrupting the culture of the kids–and not just the kids, but the schools. And the reason why we’re going to the schools is because that’s we’re the kids are. They have to be there. You know what I mean? But there are also other schools in New York that we’re going to be working with. I want to start kind of small, and then build our way out. So there’s a school in Queens that we’re going to be working with, a couple in Brooklyn.
Public or charter?
A little bit of both. Charter is public.
They’re very different. But I understand what you’re saying. [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] Yeah, so we’re gonna edge our way out. But again, the first thing is about effectiveness and for the kids to see men. So I think that’s the key.
What can men who’re interested in getting involved in this movement expect?
So, first thing, what they can expect is when we have these conversations with these young men, I think they’ll be surprised at how engaged they are. Even if they’re not doing anything, they’re sitting there and they’re listening. So expect engagement. Then the next thing is, expect challenges with that engagement. Because they’re going to challenge your thought process, how you got to where you got–they’re going to challenge your approach. So I’m going to be helping the men on their approach, on how to approach our young men because a lot of men want to do things the way they know how–they want to discipline. And this isn’t that. This is not about discipline. This is about relationship-building. You save the discipline for home, you save the discipline for school–
No Scared Straight!? [Laughs.]
Nah, nah. I think you get more results through relationship-building.
I think when brothas really get together and we have a purpose, it’s just a different feeling that you come away with. I’ve witnessed men go to these events for these young men and they didn’t realize how much the young men would touch their hearts, but then these guys were making deals with each other–like ‘I need this, oh I need that’–so I think that’s another thing too, don’t be afraid to network because your next job might be in that room. The thing that you might need relationship wise might be in that room. So these are great events for the kids and for the adults.
How much time can the guys anticipate spending with the young kids? And is this initiative going to entail just speaking engagements or is it going to be more than that?
So, two things: The reason that I want around 200 men is because one of the issues that usually happens is that when people see men, they want them to do everything. Like I used to work at a school and as soon as they saw me, it was like, ‘Mr. Hardy, can you put this up here? And can you–‘ but that wasn’t my job. So I want to target the kids [by finding out each individual man’s strengths/area of expertise]. I put out a survey [that was sent to men who expressed interest in the program], so if they have a skill set, [they’ll be paired with] one group of young men who share that same interests or skill set that they can learn with and build that bond with.
So can you just clarify how all this is going to work? Are the men only going to be coming in the mornings to work with the kids, or are they spending this time after school?
The first step is to get in front of the kids to see where the interest lies. Now, this is where the schools come into play because what we’re going to be asking the schools to do is to help connect these men with their students. So, if it’s just a phone call, if they need any help with certain things–we don’t want to over-exhaust the men, but we want the kids to have access to [their mentors] in that specific area where they need help.
So that’s why we’re going to the schools so we could have that synergy. And we want to give that mentorship, maybe an hour, maybe two hours, and they have to come to a group, then we’ll have to work out those logistics, but I think those are the first steps right now. And we want to get to know the guys, we want to see what they have to offer, and then we’ll take the next steps with the schools.
Are there going to be any fundraising events? How can people who are not men, or who aren’t able to mentor but want to help, get involved?
I think that one of the most powerful things that a woman can do is motivate a man. Y’all motivate a man by saying, ‘Yes’ or saying, ‘No.’ (Laughs.) But if you could just encourage men to be a part of this initiative [that would help]. Like I have a friend, she’s very involved in mentoring young girls. And her husband wants to mentor, but he just hasn’t made the time. So she’s like, ‘I’m sending his information to you.’ And I’m not going to abuse his information, but I want to just gently bring him in and see where the need is. So I think women can help in that regard–encouraging men to give back, whether it’s time, money.
If you look at where we are with this, I could always use help. But I don’t want to stress guys out [by asking for too much]. Right now it’s just about getting the men involved and getting them engaged. I think the best way men can help right now is just by donating their time. And I think we just need women to champion our men, cheering them on. And we might do a gathering where women could speak to men and stress what this initiative means to our community.
Any closing thoughts you want to share with the people?
I want to thank you for this opportunity. This was something that was on my heart and I don’t want to do this alone. So I want to encourage brothas to give back. To give up their time. Give up their voice. So even if it’s not with me, find a way. Whether it’s coaching or volunteering with a basketball team, baseball, soccer–let’s be more present. Encourage these young men because what it is that I see is that these young men [need people to talk to]. Like I have a kid [who comes to the Hillside Community Center] who recently lost some family members. So when somebody passes away, somebody gets locked up, who’s there to fill that void? You know what I mean? So we need that.
When that kid is at school who doesn’t understand his homework, who’s there to pump him up and explain why he needs to do his homework? And that’s what we need. We don’t need you to come in and just straight discipline because they get that a lot. But we have to come in with love. So let’s come into these spaces with love and lift them up.
If you, or someone you know, are interested in joining Al’s mentoring initiative, please contact him at @mralhardly on Instagram, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit him at mralhardy.com