Board member, Mr. Howard mentors students at NFA West
Board of Education member, Mr. Phil Howard spoke with students as part of NFA West’s Young Men’s Group Mentoring Program. President Obama established My Brother’s Keeper in February 2014 to address persistent opportunity gaps facing boys and young men of color and to ensure all youth can reach their full potential.
The purpose of this program is to provide male scholars at NFA West with an opportunity to explore self-awareness, leadership potential, barriers that impact social, emotional and academic success and provide them with experiences that expose them to individuals that can have a positive impact on their lives. The program at NFA West focuses on young men being able to: graduate from high school ready for college and career, successfully enter the workforce, and reduce violence and provide a second chance.
Research has shown, quality mentoring greatly enhances students’ chances for success. Mr. Howard time with the students is part of a larger series throughout the year. Each month, the program focuses on a theme that nurtures and develops the overall goals of the program. The theme for October and Mr. Howard’s discussion with the young men is Self-Awareness and Goal Setting.
Mr. Howard based his discussion on three related topics: recognition of personal strengths and weaknesses, who you surround yourself with, and how people perceive you
“Remember this phrase: first impressions are last impressions. People will treat you differently based on how they perceive you - based on what they think you are and what you can contribute to society. In cases where their perception of you is negative, it's up to you to change the narrative. You have that power to change people's mind about you. You can do that by the way you present yourself and by constantly proving people wrong by doing positive things.”
“It is so important to understand your emotions. I used to think it was soft to express your emotions, but there's nothing soft about understanding what makes you tick, what motivates you, and what upsets you. When you are self-aware about your strengths, weaknesses, self-perceptions, and triggers, you can neutralize those things. When you neutralize those things, they don’t have nearly as much power over you anymore.”
Mr. Howard encouraged students to develop successful habits and push themselves to grow in some way every single day. He started by asking the group who didn’t want to be successful? Not a single student raised their hands. “People who are successful develop habits. Certain things over and over. Small things. Establish a routine. Tell yourself every morning ‘I'm going to have a good day today’. Talk to yourself – but don’t talk back, about what you're going to do today that builds your ultimate foundation for tomorrow…Every day, get in touch with your feelings. You're not going to be feeling 100 or happy every day. There are outside factors in our lives that impact our feelings that other people may not know about. And when those things happen, reach out to your support - your School Counselor, Principal, Teacher. So they don't see you as being disruptive or disengaged that day. It's all about communication. Being able to lay on the line what is making you go that day or what is holding you up that day.”
To do this effectively, Mr. Howard encouraged students to learn a new word every day. “Express yourself, articulate your thoughts and ideas, to get your points across. The limits you have on your articulation will be the limits you will have in your life.”
Mr. Howard also encouraged students to ask themselves “three why's” before making a decision to minimize knee jerk reactions that lead to bad decisions. “When you can come up with a good reason why you're doing it, it allows you to be more confident in the decisions you make. When you can’t come up with a good reason for an action or something in your gut is telling you maybe it’s not a good idea, then that’s likely a bad decision. Ultimately, you control your actions.”
The students participated in an activity to personalize what they learned. They were given a piece of paper with a picture of a blank t-shirt on both sides of the page. They were asked to list how they think people see them on the front side of the shirt and how they see themselves on the back side of the shirt.
Ultimately, Mr. Howard encouraged the young men to take control of their lives. “Claim what and who you want to be - and own it. Only person responsible for success or failure in life is you. You're driving your own car - you also have to put gas in the car. To say you’re going to be something doesn't make it so. Saying you're going to be something and developing and following a plan is what you need to do. Show me a man without a plan and I'll show you a man who's going to fail. Put together a plan and follow that plan - I promise you will be successful.”
The group of young men at NFA West are already paying it forward. Last week, they traveled to Balmville Elementary School to mentor young students and discuss their experiences transitioning from elementary school to middle, then high school.
“I don't want any of you to be where you were in January in June. That means there was no growth, no movement, no progress toward that goal of walking across Academy field.
Mr. Howard concluded by reciting a poem from memory, titled Invictus by William Ernest Henley.
BY WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.