Stillman Alum Anthony Heaven Takes Action
In recent years, the “stereotypical African American male” has garnered more attention than Martin Luther King, Jr., W.E.B. Dubois and President Barack Obama combined. Everyone seems to have an opinion about the obstacles facing young Black men today. Pundits discuss this issue on the evening news. Critics point fingers in every direction. Family members wonder what went wrong. And almost everyone seems to think that more discourse will lead to a solution. But Anthony Heaven, a 2012 Stillman graduate, has a different perspective.
“When enough has been said, it’s time to take action,” insists Heaven, who serves as a graduate research assistant in the African American Male Research Initiative (AAMRI) at the University of Texas at Austin, where he is pursuing a Masters in Higher Education.
Heaven sympathizes with those who publicly and privately lament the dismal statistics. He too is concerned about the low graduation rates and high crime rates among his peers. In fact, during his senior year at Stillman he presented a research paper entitled The Mis-Education of the African American Male at the 2012 National Association of African American Studies 20th Anniversary Conference in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
“The low performance of African American males within the educational arena leads to increased criminal activity and societal stagnation,” states Heaven, whose personal experiences fueled his belief that action trumps discourse.
Growing up, Heaven lived “off and on” in Detroit, Michigan, where he witnessed an insidious rise in poverty, crime and illiteracy rates. Alarmed by what he saw, and armed with the belief that “we come from generations of kings and we can survive,” he was determined to excel. But realizing that most young men are more likely to be discouraged than encouraged by adverse living conditions, he wondered how he might inspire others to excel against the odds.
At Stillman, where faculty and staff believed in him as much as he believed in himself, he began to research issues impacting African American males. He also began to reflect upon the factors that helped him to make choices that lead to success. He believes that being in a small, safe, nurturing College environment was definitely an asset.
“Everyone was genuinely concerned about me. Stillman prides itself in building the Stillman Man and the Stillman Woman, so we dress in our Thursday best and students have so many opportunities to speak publicly and to lead. This environment gave me a strong foundation,” says Heaven, who held many leadership positions at the College, including Student Government Association President, Christian Student Association President and Head Residence Hall Assistant at Knox Hall.
When he began graduate school in Texas, at a campus where there are approximately 50,000 students and only about 800 are Black males, Heaven observed that “many African American males were disconnected from the African American community” on campus. While Stillman gave him the foundation he needed to succeed at a large University, he found that most African American students he met in Texas had never had the benefit of an HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) experience.
Being from Stillman, where the importance of giving back and helping others was constantly instilled in him, gave Heaven a unique perspective. “I wanted to bring African American males into the community and make them aware that academic coaching and networking opportunities are available, and that they can be paired with a mentor. I love having a diverse group of mentors, but there is nothing like having a mentor behind you who has had similar experiences to yours, has a similar perspective and is truly invested in taking you to the next level.”
Through AAMRI, Heaven and other mentors seek to provide African American males with the type of support that he relished during his undergraduate years at Stillman. Mentors include both upperclassmen and professionals from diverse fields.
“What we try to do is create a culture of participation among African American students, so that students are involved and engaged. After all, we are our best support system,” says Heaven.
“We have to bond together and promote excellence. The camaraderie can keep each of us uplifted. When we see a student sitting in the back of the class, we have to say, ‘You need to come to the front of the class with us’ because we have to really apply ourselves. When we encourage each other to go to class versus skipping class—or to study instead of partying, that’s positive peer pressure versus negative peer pressure,” says Heaven, who believes that “changing a student’s mentality” will increase the likelihood of academic success.
Heaven believes that having access to academic coaching, mentoring, networking opportunities, and social activities helps African American males remain in college and graduate. Because early outreach is so important, Heaven would also like to see more outreach programs for high school students. Last spring, he and other members of AAMRI participated in the North Texas African American Male Summit, which was designed to explore ways of increasing the number of African American males who complete high school and attend college.
Heaven is currently assisting with research concerning the mentoring of African American males, and he believes that investigation and further discourse will aid in finding solutions—as long as talk doesn’t substitute for action.
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