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RMU to Expand Black Male Leadership Development Institute 

Pittsburgh -- Robert Morris University and the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh will expand their leadership program for African American teenage boys in 2010 with the help of an increased grant from The Heinz Endowments. 

The Black Male Leadership Development Institute will bring 65 boys in grades nine through 12 to RMU this summer for a week of seminars and workshops led by male African American leaders from western Pennsylvania. Participation in the June 20-27 program will expand from 50 students in 2009, and for the first time the institute will engage participants in ongoing mentoring and other programming throughout the school year. 

“The relationship with RMU has been outstanding in giving these young men an opportunity – the first for most of them – to experience what it’s like to be on a college campus,” said Florence Rouzier, director of education and youth development at the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh.

“But there was really no mechanism to continue to help them cultivate leadership after the program ended. This funding from The Heinz Endowments gives us the ability to continue what we’ve started and engage these boys throughout the entire year,” said Rouzier.

The Heinz Endowments supported the program at RMU last year with a $25,000 grant. This year, the foundation has dedicated $150,000 to the leadership institute. 

The institute’s mission matches the goals of a task force that The Heinz Endowments created in 2007 to identify and increase educational and leadership opportunities for African American men and boys in the Pittsburgh area, said Stan Thompson, The Heinz Endowments’ director for education. 

“This is a program that’s providing the kind of opportunities we want to see happen,” said Thompson. “This allows African American boys to take the competencies that they already have and expand them into a repertoire of leadership skills that can have a practical impact in their local communities. This awareness and facilitation of these skills then can help to change the outcomes for African American men and boys in this region.”

Rouzier and Rex L. Crawley, associate professor and assistant dean of RMU’s School of Communications and Information Systems, have expanded the original curriculum into a week of seminars and workshops. Sessions will address such themes as making the most of your education, taking care of your body, sports and leadership, developing character and ethics, and conflict resolution. 

For the first time since the institute began, throughout the school year participants will attend several workshops and other continuing leadership-development activities focused on the themes or “tracks” noted above. Some participants will take digital cameras home to document their communities, while others may work in teams to conceive of and produce a music recording. Participants who complete one “track” may then participate in another. Periodic speakers’ luncheons will offer opportunities for the entire learning community to come together and reconnect. 

“Robert Morris University has always worked to make higher education more accessible to underserved populations, and we know that the Black Male Leadership Development Institute has impacted the lives of participants by getting them excited about the idea of going to college,” said Crawley, head of the Department of Communication. “We deliver a rigorous curriculum that is fun. Now we will be able to expand that into a year-long mentoring program for these young men.”

The Urban League initiated the leadership development program in 2007 as a one-day seminar at Duquesne University. It expanded to a three-day residential program at RMU the following year, and grew to five days in 2009.

Offering participants a chance to live for a week on a college campus is an essential element of the program, Crawley added. 

“It’s transformative for them to experience campus life for several days,” he said. “Our supervision is strict, but not oppressive. They have some freedoms, and feel empowered as young adults.”