Rockford YMCA invests in strategy for boys and young men of color

Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 10:51 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - The YMCA of Rock River Valley in Rockford joins a national movement to support the outcomes of boys and young men of color who face profound challenges growing up in their neighborhoods.

Leaders say the overarching goal is to change the trajectory of boys and young men of color by improving academics, social-emotional wellbeing, physical health and long-term financial security.

Kyan Muhammad is a senior at Auburn High School in Rockford. Through his own experience he understands the challenges boys and young men of color face.

“I’ve never had a father figure that I could be able to look up to,” says Kyan. “I had my godfather, my uncle Stevie as I call him, other than that, I didn’t have other male figures around me.”

As human beings we grow up imitating the behavior of those around us to function in the world. But missing a father figure the way Kyan did can seriously affect a child’s cognitive and social development.

“It’s somebody that young black men like me can look at another black man and be like I never necessarily thought like we were going through the same thing.”

The Boys and Young Men of Color (BYMOC) program through the YMCA tries to help that: mentoring participants in college and career, character development and health.

“Particularly, there’s something about what’s happening with boys of color that we need to pay attention to,” says Michael DeVaul.

Michael DeVaul is the National Executive Director for the BYMOC. He says boys and young men of color are twice as likely to grow up in poverty and are more likely to fall into poverty as adults.

“A lot of it is just more curiosity, more empathy, more listening, so the environment is a little bit better.”

Because programs like this, Kyan says, will leave a lasting impact on the community.

“It gives a different perspective on who we are as a people. And it’s going to show us in a better light,” says Kyan.

This is part of a national effort from the YMCA that hopes to reach 10,000 of these boys and young men across 100 cities including Rockford by 2025. Rockford is the 54th city in more than half of U.S. states to participate in this YMCA initiative. They are the fourth city in Illinois as well, along with Chicago, Evanston and Schaumburg.

They will also partner with several RPS 205 schools so mentors can work with the boys during class. The YMCA’s first program with BYMOC will be Bro Code, a mentoring program offered through the SwedishAmerican Riverfront YMCA and Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd.