By CSULB Senior Seminar Reporter Joshua Esqueda
In his first couple years of high school, James Eastland was involved in a gang. He was getting into trouble, and his poor grades sent a clear message: he was suffering. But all of that turned around when he joined the Male Academy in his junior year.
Created in 2007, the Male Academy is an elective class that empowers young men, mostly young men of color, through academics, culture and history as well as through social-emotional skill building, focusing on self-awareness, respect and positive relationships. The program, which is available in middle and high schools in Long Beach, aims to help struggling students graduate high school and lead more successful lives after high school.
“There is a nationwide epidemic with underrepresented Latino, African-American and Pacific Islander students who are not graduating high school,”said Lionel Gonzalez, Long Beach Unified School District facilitator for the Male Academy.
According to Gonzalez, from the start of a school year to it’s end, grades improve among his students from D’s and F’s to A’s and B’s. But while education is a top priority for the Academy, it is only a fraction of what the program offers.
The program is for young men who are struggling in their personal lives. Gonzalez said the students often have no one to confide in when dealing with the stressors of their environment, and as a result can end up turning to gangs, failing out of school, and getting into trouble.
With staff and peers readily available, The Male Academy is designed to be a place young men can turn to for acceptance, at a time in their lives when many don’t feel supported by their school.
With the help of the Male Academy, Eastland has found himself not only overcoming his own struggles, but also helping others. He has mentored incoming freshmen and sophomores who have joined the program and has helped defuse fights. He has also been following a strict academic schedule set to get himself back on track, starting with being active in the classroom and making sure his homework and classwork is done on time.
The Male Academy also brings awareness to its students about social justice issues, like gang activity, gay rights and bullying. The essentials on fatherhood and how to treat women are taught to these male students along with Black History Month, Latino Heritage and the Pacific Islander culture.
“I learned that man is no higher than a woman,” said Cabrillo High School senior, Herbert Wells. “We are all human and therefore, why look down on the opposite sex?”
To break the racial tension amongst the “cliques”in schools, the Male Academy brings leaders of each racial group together to build friendships. This is done in hopes that each leader will carry this with them outside the classroom and show others that they too can make friends with someone outside their race.
According to Gonzalez, this has lessened race-related violence by allowing students from different racial backgrounds to spend time together. One race no longer sees it a threat if a student from a “rival race”approaches them.
Cabrillo High School senior, Gary Turner is one of many students who said he loves the program, especially the many guest speakers that have come to talk to the Male Academy. The Male Academy has helped him mature and taught him to focus on his future now, he says.
“Listening to the guest speakers has taught me a new way to view life,”Turner said, “I can now network with my peers and those who I meet to get a head start on my chosen career path and continue to mature in the man I know I will become.”
After seven years since its creation, the Male Academy is now shifting its focus to be more inclusive of White students. Any male student can join regardless of their ethnicity and where they stand academically. The program has a one percent Caucasian population and is working on improving that minority within the minority of the program.
With graduation just around the corner, Male Academy students look back at how far they have come, and the classmates that helped them overcome their obstacles.
“These guys are not just friends and not just my classmates, but my brothers. I thank the Male Academy for everything they have taught me,”Turner said.