Rosenblum: College group helps people of color to be class standouts

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 29, 2012 - 4:50 PM

Edmond Dinyuy takes two buses daily from his home in Maplewood to Century College in White Bear Lake. It's not just the academic rigors that get him up and out the door on time.

College, for Dinyuy, 21, also is about building relationships, dressing well and, most importantly, believing he's in the right place.

Those lessons are reiterated every Thursday at 2 p.m., when Dinyuy joins about 18 other male students of color for a two-hour meeting of Brother-to-Brother.

The Brother-to-Brother program launched this month at Century, offering mentorship and moral support to African-American, Hispanic and Hmong males, and confidence-building to literally take a seat at the front of the class, often for the first time.

They get a free lunch, too.

These perks may seem small or obvious to traditional students. To these young men, Brother-to-Brother is a lifeline. Most are the first in their families to go to college, program coordinator Patrick Donaway said.

"Many don't feel that they belong," he said. "They come to class, then leave. We want them to stick around."

And not just stick around, but stick out. Donaway requires the men to do community service and to wear a shirt and tie to school at least once a week. "They notice that they're treated differently when they dress in a shirt and tie," he said. "When you look professional, people treat you professionally."

The idea for a chapter arose last year when Brother-to-Brother founder Tyrone Bledsoe spoke on campus. "Why would you spend $100 to sit in the front row of a Lil Wayne concert," Bledsoe asked, "and then spend $5,000 to sit in the back of the class?" Studies show that students who sit near the front of the classroom earn better grades.

Century College, with 10,422 credit-earning students, is Minnesota's largest two-year college. The number of students of color is growing. Thirty-seven percent of Century's students are students of color, compared with 24 percent five years ago. Fifteen percent are Asian, 11 percent are African-American and 6 percent are Hispanic, according to spokeswoman Nancy Livingston.

Annual tuition for a resident, full-time student is $4,300 which, while a bargain compared with most colleges, is still a stretch for many here. That's why Brother-to-Brother meetings also include information on scholarships, résumé-building and work-study opportunities.

Members also are encouraged to fill out an "instructor contact form," which allows for a personal introduction to their teachers and a chance to talk about Brother-to-Brother. One member's car broke down, and he missed a big math test. He told Donaway that the only reason the instructor let him make up the test was because of meeting his teacher in this personal way.

"We fix as much as we can so they don't have to," said chapter president Melvin Efesoa, 17. Efesoa, of Woodbury, heard Bledsoe speak and decided, "I could really help myself and other kids like myself."

Frankly, he doesn't need much help, but he's a great role model. Efesoa grew up in a family where "school comes first." He took post-secondary enrollment options classes his senior year at Woodbury High School and plans to study medicine.

"For some of the brothers," he said, the idea of reaching high "does take a little time to get used to." A program like this, he said, "can be that one thing that happens in their life that changes everything."

Although just a month old, the program already is having an impact.

"I pay more attention," said Darren Mulsumo, 22, of Fridley. "I walk out of the classroom knowing what I have to get done."

Nji-Nei Mou-Bayong, 19, of St. Paul, came to a meeting "because it looks good on your résumé. I'm actually really loving it."

Brother-to-Brother, said Ronald Bailey, 22, of St. Paul, "inspires you to stay on track."

James Hart faces the double challenges of being a man of color and an older student. Brother-to-Brother has been extremely helpful to him, too, he said.

"I raced to the rear of the class in high school," said Hart, 54, an investment banker who is now re-creating himself at Century. "I didn't want to be called on. Now I seek out the front seat."

Donaway loves to hear that. Brother-to-Brother, he said, "is not about fixing anybody. They don't need fixing. It's about helping. They're here. They're getting an education. It's about giving them tools to be successful."

gail.rosenblum@startribune.com • 612-673-7350

  • HOW TO DONATE

    Do you have new slacks or contemporary ties you'd like to donate to the Brother-to-Brother program? Please e-mail Patrick Donaway at patrick.donaway@century.edu or call him at 651-779-3344.
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