The foundation has a mentoring, tutoring, and scholarship program that links Black students with Black scientists, engineers, architects, and doctors.
By Jason Lewis
“What you see is what you can be.”
That simple quote from Bridge Builders Foundation President James Breedlove is guiding many young African American students toward STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) careers. African Americans account for 13 percent of the United States population, but less than five percent of the jobs in STEM fields.
The Bridge Builders Foundation is leading Black students to STEM fields by surrounding the children with Black scientists, engineers, architects, and doctors.
“A lot of these kids don’t know Black architects, engineers, or doctors,” Breedlove said. “So it’s a different dynamic when a kid is going on a field trip and a Black architect is sitting there eating meals with you. If a kid is interested in a subject matter, we’ll bring somebody that’s doing that.”
Many of the jobs of the future will be technology based. While everybody consumes technology, many communities of color have been missing the technology wave in terms of employment, and that can limit the growth of those communities.
“What we know is that when we get them in the forefront of technology, that’s intergenerational social mobility,” Breedlove said. “We understand that it doesn’t just affect them, because if they get a better career track, it’s going to affect who they marry, their kids, their kids’ educational opportunities. It’s a bigger picture than just talking at kids and telling them that science is cool. We understand what’s at stake. What’s at stake is that this is about elevating our community, and the only way to elevate our community is having our kids aligned with the best paying and most demanding jobs. So we focus on that all through our program.”
The foundation has a three weekend program in the summer, and they have a program that runs on the 3rd and 4th Saturdays of the month from January through July. This program is for boys and girls in elementary and middle school.
The Bridge Builders Foundation (formerly Zeta Rho Foundation) was created by members of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Zeta Rho Chapter (Los Angeles), in 1998.
This past June at the Salute and Scholarship Program Banquet, 17 high school graduating male seniors were awarded $2,500 scholarships each. But the financial assistance does not stop there.
“We found out that our students not only need support when they are going into college, but they need support all the way through,” Breedlove said.
To offer additional support, the students receive $1,000 scholarships for the next three years of college. To date, the foundation has awarded more than $500,000 in scholarships.
The Salute and Scholarship Program Banquet showcases Black high school students at their best, as these students are highly educated, and they are all going to prestigious universities around the nation.
“We dispel the myth that all of our young Black boys are out here robbing, stealing, and killing,” Breedlove said. “These young boys are out here doing great things, and we need to support them.”
While the financial support is important, the mentoring component is more valuable. The Salute and Scholarship Program features educational seminars before and after the banquet, and each of the scholarship recipients is assigned to a mentor who will assist them through their college years.
“With African American male students, the mentoring and coaching is more valuable than the money,” Breedlove said. “Many of them are not exposed to opportunities and positive male role models. In addition to our educational programs, we’re teaching them coping skills, and we’re addressing implicit bias, systemic racism, and some of the obstacles that they are going to see but not understand. We have one component where we teach the kids how to survive a police encounter. That’s something that a school district isn’t going to embrace. School districts deal with content, but they don’t specifically look at our kids with the intention of telling them that they belong, they can succeed, and this is why it’s important. But we know that we need to have a dialog with our students to prepare them for these kinds of things. Because that’s their reality. We have to do more than just tell them to do well in school. We also have to teach them how to navigate confrontation.”
The Bridge Foundation has partnerships with the United Negro College Fund, AIDS Health Care Foundation, Charles Drew University, Posse Foundation, and L.A. Urban League. For more information visit www.bridgebuildersla.org or call (888) 355-0917.