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Youth Guidance (BAM) and Thrive Chicago

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National Impact Community: Chicago, IL

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Youth Guidance Opens in a new tab (YG) creates and implements school-based programs that enable at-risk children to overcome obstacles, focus on their education, and ultimately succeed in school and in life. Youth Guidance impacts more than 12,000 youth each year and Thrive Chicago has brought together 600 individuals representing nearly 200 child and youth serving organizations to accomplish the shared objective of supporting Chicago youth from “cradle-to-career.”

“We believe that violence is a symptom of not systemically supporting boys and young men of Color,...[W]e believe that by addressing the underlying conditions that prevent boys and young men of color from achieving their dreams is implicitly a violence prevention strategy.”
- Chris Goins, former MBK Impact Community Lead for the City of Chicago, and Chief Equity Officer for Thrive Chicago.
Youth Guidance

Guiding Youth to Bright Futures

Youth Guidance provides programs focused on physical, social, and emotional support to help participants break cycles of violence, overcome life and academic obstacles, make positive choices, engage with caring adults, and remain on track for future success. Phillip Cusic, Senior Director of BAM at Youth Guidance, shared that they “do predominantly social and emotional learning and support, using group practices, rites of passage, as well as group therapy and individual counseling.” Goins noted that the action team applied the “learnings from Youth Guidance due to the magnitude [of] their power and their superpowers [of being] embedded in schools.” Youth Guidance serves more than 12,000 students in Chicago’s schools, with more than 95 percent of students identifying as African-American and Hispanic/Latino.

Thrive Chicago leverages their collaborative networks of people with a focus on data that accelerates innovation for addressing the complex issues faced by Chicago’s youth. The organization is the lead convener of Chicago’s MBK Action Team, a collaborative that includes more than 75 youth-serving organizations. The organization engages diverse leaders from the nonprofit, business, government, education and philanthropy sectors working toward one common agenda: to prepare all Chicago youth for a vibrant future. Thrive Chicago has brought together 600 individuals representing nearly 200 child and youth serving organizations to accomplish the shared objective of supporting Chicago youth from “cradle-to-career.” One major strategy of the MBK award was to expand the impact of Becoming A Man® (BAM) and promote systems-level change through coordination and alignment of institutions in the postsecondary space. Since January 2020, Thrive leadership team and Youth Guidance have  collectively generated nearly $1.1 million for MBK Chicago to expand the reach of BAM and further develop the goals of the MBK Action Plan. 

Becoming a Man

Launched in 2001, The Becoming a Man Opens in a new tab (BAM) program engages young men in navigating difficult circumstances by openly expressing themselves, receiving support and developing the social and emotional skills necessary to succeed. The program has expanded to serve more than 75 schools in Chicago, including four supported by the MBK Impact award.  BAM has also launched in other US cities, including Boston, Los Angeles, Kansas City, and Dallas.   Schools specifically funded by the MBK Impact Award engaged 186 students, providing 3,640 services over the last year with an average of 21 services per students, including resources and mentoring.  Each school is provided  a full-time BAM Counselor who coordinates the implementation of the evidence based curriculum. Two Randomized Controlled Trials (RCT) conducted by the Urban Labs at the University of Chicago Opens in a new tab found that BAM cut violent-crime arrests among youth in half and boosted high school graduation rates of participants by nearly 20%. The RCT involved 2,740 eligible young male students grades 7-10 within 18 public schools on the south and west sides of Chicago. The results of both studies offer a strong evidence base for the effectiveness of the BAM curriculum and reveal that the program fills an important need by developing essential, non-academic skills in young men. Through mentoring, role-playing and group exercises, BAM students practice impulse control and emotional self-regulation that help raise participants' aspirations for the future and develop a sense of personal responsibility. BAM fosters positive development in young men by emphasizing Six Core Values: (1) Integrity (2) Accountability, Positive Anger-Expression, (4) Self-Determination, (5) Respect for Womanhood, and (6) Visionary Goal-Setting. 

Based in the belief that young people in Chicago are the city’s most important asset. Youth Guidance developed a youth mentorship pilot project working with 20 BAM alumni and 15-30 youth at two local elementary schools.  In describing the initiative Watson noted, “BAM Alumni worked with youth to help redirect their energy and talk about what was really going on, what they are feeling, fears they were facing, and what they want to be in the future.”

A group of young men sit in a circle in conversation.
A man gestures to a group of young men sitting in a circle.
Two clasped hands raised in the air.

The Village

The MBK Action Team, or Village, continued to meet monthly to advance the Action Plan's recommendations and develop new initiatives based on data and stakeholder insights. “Action Team is the official term, we call it the village for those that are part of it” shared Watson. In 2020, the Village conducted a needs assessment of the collaborative and found that 78.7 percent of respondents reported one or more basic needs (food/utility payments/housing); 79.7 percent reported one or more everyday needs (food/clothing/hygiene and cleaning supplies); 78 percent reported one or more educational need (Wi-Fi/laptop/access to space for school or counseling/school supplies); and 73.6 percent reported one of more family support need (job training). The data helped identify critical needs and coordinate the distribution of more than $500,000 in crisis relief funds across the coalition. 

In 2021 Thrive secured funds from the Harlem Children's Zone (HCZ Opens in a new tab ) COVID- relief initiative. The primary objective of the national COVID-19 relief and recovery effort was to inject vital resources into communities that have historically faced neglect and disinvestment. Goins shared that through these funds Thrive was able to “create long term investments and programs targeted for boys and young men of color, uplifting everyday leaders and people who are doing the work on the front lines.” The $1.8 million in COVID-19 relief funds from HCZ were distributed to 16 members of the village from March to August 2021 focused on targeted summer mentoring programming.

Creating a Pipeline for the Next Generation of Male Teachers of Color

Recently, the partnership launched the  MBK Social Innovation & Strategy Fellowship in 2021,  a dedicated educator pipeline to increase and strengthen the next generation of male teachers of color.  Goins noted that the action team “replicated the model and lessons learned from other cities to chart the new course that will lead to more young men making the choice to become teachers and major in education.” Research demonstrated that greater teacher diversity in school yields higher expectations, lower discipline referral rates, and better academic results for students of color. Currently only 3 percent of CPS teachers are men of color, while more than 80 percent are students of color.  Male teachers of color have been shown to have a transformative impact.  Black males with a Black teacher in K-5 are 39 percent less likely to drop out of high school and 13 perecent more likely to enroll in college than peers without a Black teacher.  The educator pipeline initiative is supported by the Chicago City Colleges (CCC) that is leveraging their existing pipeline initiative to help recruit and provide up to 20 full scholarships to BYMOC who are aspiring educators. AJ Watson, BAM Director for Youth Guidance, noted that the “data is really clear in terms of the impact educators of color can have in a young person's life, particularly the black boys, and how much it changes their trajectory over the course of their lifetime.” 

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A group of men wearing shirts that read "BAM" pose for a photo.
Meet the Communities

Youth Guidance (BAM) and Thrive Chicago, Chicago, IL

Youth Guidance creates and implements school-based programs, such as its acclaimed Becoming A Man (BAM) initiative, which enables children in underserved communities to overcome obstacles, focus on their education, and ultimately succeed in school and in life. During the pandemic, Youth Guidance is providing online counseling, making calls to connect with students via their parents and caregivers, and connecting families to resources to cope with food insecurity, job loss, and to meet basic needs.

Thrive Chicago, a collective impact initiative that engages a diverse group of leaders from the nonprofit, business, government, education and philanthropy sectors to prepare all Chicago youth for a vibrant future, serves as the anchor institution for MBK Chicago. Thrive Chicago has continued to convene the dozens of cross-sector leaders that comprise the MBK Chicago action team to share best practices and lessons learned, coordinate and align on COVID-19 response, and ensure the MBK Chicago action plan remains on track and will be responsive to unique changes stemming from the crisis.