A group that was formed to bring togetherness amongst African American male students at Westlake High School is reunited for another year of camaraderie and growth. The 2022-2023 school year marks the second year of the Elite Black Men group at Westlake.
The group started with the Achieving Academic Equity and Excellence for Black Boys for Maryland (AAEEBB) initiative. An initiative dedicated to developing and implementing strategies to improve the educational experience for Black boys in Maryland’s schools according to the Maryland State Department of Education’s website. The state noticed that black boys had some of the lowest test scores but the highest number of referrals. Last year the group participated in outreach opportunities and team building exercises. This year is no different.
Elite Black Men of Westlake recently participated in a day full of group activities, discussions and community outreach opportunities. After the group saw the movie, “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” they debriefed in small groups the next day, unpacking scenes from the movie and pointing out key themes found in the film. “They saw Wakanda Forever and know we’re debriefing with the five themes of pain, conflict, tradition, love and emotions,” Westlake Assistant Principal Dana Fenwick said. “Each group is going to tackle one and then we’re going to go over our data.” The small groups talked amongst themselves and appointed a spokesperson to present on their chosen theme.
The ESOL community at the school joined as well. “The best part of the day was to bring the boys together not just with Elite Black Men but with the ESOL community and seeing them form a genuine bond,” Fenwick said. “We teach them to be vulnerable and they are able to do that with one another.”
Elite Black Men were joined by the Mighty Men of Westlake, a group of community members with a variety of connections. Whether they are a parent of a student at the school, or just a trusted, known adult or mentor the Mighty Men are heavily involved with the school. The group started with the AAEEBB grant. Fenwick also attended the meeting with Principal Diane Roberts and other staff at the school.
In addition to the small group discussions, the men assembled bikes for students at J.P. Ryon Elementary School. The bikes were just in time to give to students as a gift for the holidays.
“When we told them the bikes would go to a kid who might not have a Christmas gift the smiles on their faces made our hearts melt,” Fenwick said.
For most, the bike building was a highlight of the day. “The thing that I enjoyed most today was fixing the bikes with my peers and the advice that Brother Jones, one of the Mighty Men of Westlake, gave to me,” Tyrone Lawrence, a junior at Westlake, said.
For many of the students it was their first time attending the group and they were excited to attend. Gift Ake, a junior at Westlake, heard about the group from his close friend. “I enjoy how we can achieve goals as a group and support during trials and whatever life brings,” he said.
“I see untapped potential. It’s awesome to hear them talk and articulate their thoughts,” Roberts said. “This is a new group — you have the founders from last year attending. The goal of today is teambuilding and bonding to have the experience together.”