CBMA SPOTLIGHT: Kendrick Friendly, Co-Founder, Mentoring of Men
January was National Mentoring Month, a time each year when people around the country are inspired and activated to provide mentorship, guidance and support to young people in need. However for Denver-based organization Mentoring of Men, creating and fostering mentorship relationships is a year-long mission. It's also one that its Co-Founder Kendrick Friendly credits to his own growth and development as a professional and leader in the local and national Black Male Achievement movement.
For our February member spotlight, CBMA got to talk with Kendrick (who is a native of Denver) about his organization, the role that mentorship has played in his own life, and how being part of the Campaign for Black Male Achievement network is helping to advance his BMA work.
Can you share a bit about your own personal background, and what led you to become involved in this work?
Kendrick: I'm a born and raised Denver native. I grew up in a single family home and, growing up, one of the things that really helped propel me were individuals who stepped in when I reached different obstacles in life. Mentoring, for me, was very big in helping me get to college and also stay in college. I'm the oldest of four kids, so along with helping my siblings I always knew I wanted to give back because I know how mentorship really impacted my life and helped me go in a positive direction.
After undergrad, I went into education where I've been for close to 15 or 16 years. I had the opportunity about five years ago to actually help start a program at the Community College of Denver called the Urban Male Initiative. That program was really geared towards helping our urban males find resources that would support them in staying in and completing school. I now work for Denver Public Schools and I do a lot of mentoring with their Black Male Initiative, where we're looking at some of the obstacles and roadblocks that our young men have faced.
At Mentoring For Men, we're making sure that we're putting resources in place but also connecting the young men with leaders in our community to build organic relationships and to make sure that bridge between the generations doesn't exist. Just seeing how I've been able to really invest in people, that's something I'm passionate about and that I really worked towards doing professionally and personally.
Are there prerequisites for becoming a mentee or a mentor?
Kendrick: Becoming a mentee is open to any young person who wants to apply. To quote one of my current mentors, "We're looking for those young men who just have one percent of the desire to see themselves in a better position than where they've been." We really focus on our youth who are considered "at risk" -- and I hate that phrase, but we want to help those young men. Often, we see that those are the young men who fall through the cracks. As long as you have that one percent to want to see themselves in better positions, that's all we ask for.
Initially, we tried to start out doing individual mentoring, but one problem we've run into that we're seeing on a national level is that we have more mentees than we have mentors. While we still do offer some individual mentoring, we do a lot of group mentoring as well and trying to expose the young men to various career opportunities and different things in life they may not do otherwise. To become a mentor, we require that they go through a background check and complete a mentor questionnaire, those are our only requirements.
What has been Mentoring of Men’s model for monitoring the impact you're having on the mentees in your program?
Kendrick: We use the qualitative research method and are finding that that really works best for us, because sometimes that captures some of the things that numbers may not catch, like shifts in thinking, or shifts in just realizing that there are different opportunities that are available, and really getting the young men to be empowered. We do formal and informal surveys with both our mentees and the parents, but we also do them with our mentors as well to see where they are and making sure that they feel supported.
Do you find that mentorship relationships and experiences are stronger when they're in some kind of parental involvement? How many of the participants in your program actually have active parental involvement versus not, and are you able to see a difference between the two?
Kendrick: We really haven't seen much of a difference in terms of parental involvement. I can say that about 85 to 89 percent of our participants come from single parent homes. For a lot of them, they were referred to us because some of the mothers have just been like, "Hey, I just need to get some positive male role models in my child's life." The mothers are very involved in terms of communicating with us if there are issues that have arisen, and making sure the young men arrive to the events.
We really had to adjust our delivery methods and just make sure the mothers knew, "Hey, our mentors are very qualified and we want to make sure these young men have an opportunity and an arena to be around other men and talk about some of the issues that they feel they cannot talk to you about." Overall, our parental support is very strong. We've seen really good things from that.
In your work and interactions with mentees, is trauma an issue that you find yourself having to address often?
Kendrick: Absolutely. With a lot of our young people, I think one of the biggest traumas that we've run into is just the impact of not having the father there or having that revolving door in terms of male figures. That's been huge. We definitely have a lot of young people who deal with the trauma of violence, both domestic and gang violence. It’s something we definitely see and that we definitely have to address.
Do you have any of your own personal stress relief regimens or routines that help you manage the day-today stress and pressure related to your work?
Kendrick: The one thing I've learned to do is to set aside time for myself, and being okay with unplugging. It may be something as simple as, "Let me watch Sports Center on ESPN," or, "Let me read a book." I found that to be especially important because I have two daughters. Coaching is also something that I enjoy and find to be stress relief because there's more teaching and the interaction is a lot different.
What do you think are the benefits of being part of the CBMA network to your organization?
Kendrick: I think two things: one, it's shown that we're part of a much bigger movement than what's going on here in Denver. It's really helped us to really take a step back and say, "Okay, what are the best practices that are working other places? How can we implement that here in Denver in terms of what we're doing?" It's also really helped us in terms of building a network and reaching out to people.
Another thing is, it's really helped shed light in terms of helping us realize that, while we're gaining resources from a national network, it's important for us to build a network here within Denver, Colorado. One of the problems we've had here is we have organizations that will operate in silos, and we're not competing for kids, but we're like, "Well if we just work together, we could have a much larger impact." That's really helped in terms of building collaborative relationships with the leadership programs that some of the fraternities have here in Denver, and other organizations. We open it up to other people because it's about providing access and opportunity at the end of the day. That's been the big piece, and then just being able to tap into resources has been extremely helpful for us.
What impact and role do you think that mentorship has in advancing Black Male Achievement?
Kendrick: If we're not willing to invest in our own, we can't upset when others won't invest in us. I think we're very unique because while we may come from different areas geographically, we all have very similar shared experiences. Being able to help young men navigate some of these experiences is important, especially in the times that we're experiencing now, because if we're not opening doors, then a lot of times our young men are just stuck. Opening the doors, being able to have those tough conversations and the young men being able to see the conversation is coming from a place of love allows them to be more susceptible to accepting the conversation and really move forward.
I just think that one of the things we've gotten away from in the Black community is that sense of community, building relationships, and holding each other accountable, which are things that I think mentoring does. You’re building relationships and holding each other accountable, but even within that accountability you're saying, "Let me be the shoulders that you can stand on so I can make sure you have access and you're able to be successful, despite whatever the definition of success may be for you."