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Turning boys into men

IN THIS TOGETHER: Natalie Teniola, centre, was joined by her godson, right, and Daniella Edwards at the first meeting

MENTOR, life coach and local radio presenter, Natalie Teniola was driven to do something to promote changes for young black boys because of the issues faced by her godson at high school.

“He did very well at primary school but when he got into high school things started changing.

“I’m an action person and if there is an issue that needs to be addressed, I will do it. It’s so sad that African-Caribbean boys do well up to the age of 11, extremely well.

“And yet after all the years of education and support it then begins to unravel when they reach 11 and 12. The seed was planted many years ago when I met (educational psychologist) Richard Majors and it forced me to ask where the manhood training is for our boys to become men?”

“One of the scary things is that some boys are not able to manage their anger or express themselves.

“The oppression of school does not always encourage them to be their best. The fact that in some households, boys are brought up without the influence of a father can also be detrimental.”

Reaching out to boys between the ages of 11 to 13 from Moss Side and surrounding areas, Natalie has plans to coordinate a nine-month community project for 12 boys, beginning in September and meeting every two weeks.

The project will include a 10- day trip to the Gambia in December to encourage the boys to weave together the common threads of their cultural identity, which will help to enrich their lives when they return home. It is her vision that throughout the project professionals will deliver self-development courses for the boys as well as support for families, facilitating sessions in anger-management, coping strategies, meditation, life skills and sport.

She would also like teachers to be a part of the whole journey as observers “to give them an experience so that next year they may participate with their classes”, a practice which she has seen in operation during her many visits to the Gambia over the course of the past 11 years.

The first meeting, to bring together teachers, parents and facilitators was held at the end of last month in Whalley Range and Natalie wants to motivate members of the community to get involved in helping to fundraise during February ‘the month of creativity’. It is hoped that this project will become a prototype for many others and the first graduates will then go on to become future leaders and mentors for the next.

Dr Richard Majors was one of the people Natalie was inspired by and it is his work that has given her the impetus to forge ahead with her plans. Majors is the author of three books and dozens of scholarly articles. His book Cool Pose, which explores the issues of masculine identity and the development of black boys, was submitted for the Pulitzer Prize by his publisher and was on their bestsellers list in 1992. His most recent work includes the exploration of emotional literacy.

“Mentoring and rites of passage are extremely important. They have been identified as being the solutions but I want to add to those two things by also looking at emotional development. We now have technology, in terms of the science and exercises, that can help young black boys to choose their emotions.”

Dr Majors said that the pivotal age of change for black boys is at around eight or nine years of age and his recent work delves into the psyche of both black boys and their teachers to help to resolve some of the problems they have been facing.

“For a programme to be successful it is essential that they include a component of emotional literacy and cultural competence.

“The primary determinant of the long-term success of young black boys is the child teacher relationship.

“So, if you have a teacher that is fearful of and stereotypes young black boys then the boys get the message at around eight or nine years of age that they are being treated differently and they suffer the impacts of racism. Like anybody else they respond to that. They either shut down, they retreat and become defeatist or they challenge the system and become rebellious.”

Consequently, Dr Majors stresses the importance of training for teachers to become both emotionally literate and culturally competent so that they understand the value systems, customs and experiences of black boys and are able to relate and respond to that in the classroom.

“I applaud Natalie for her ideas and convictions and I support her for being on the right track. This is definitely a good way to start but we also have to be scientific in our approach to the issues we are facing. There is a proliferation of emotional literacy but until we start talking in the black community about emotional development we will not progress.”

For further information about the project contact Natalie at

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