"A Personal Reflection on the importance of Project MALES," by Dr. Blandina "Bambi" Cardenas

Thanks to Dr. Blandina "Bambi" Cardenas for her wonderful reflection on last Wednesday evening's Zoom meeting with UT Austin Educational Leadership and Policy Professor and Department Chair Dr. Victor Saenz, Texas A & M Professor Dr. Luis Ponjuan, and Executive Director Dr. Emmet Campos and their graduate students—some of whom we in Nuestro Grupo share—associated with Project MALES. Relatedly, the Chronicle of Higher Education just posted a piece titled, "The Male Enrollment Crisis." 

As Dr. Cardenas well describes, they are doing God's work. Last Wednesday evening was so incredibly fulfilling, deepening connections to all our work in the Austin community and beyond. Speaking on behalf of Dr. Cardenas and all the members of Nuestro Grupo, the community-based organization that founded Academia Cuauhtli, we could not be happier.  

-Angela Valenzuela

A Personal Reflection on the importance of Project MALES

Dr. Blandina "Bambi" Cardenas

Last night I had an incredible experience with Nuestro Grupo, convened by the incredible Angela Valenzuela and including a collection of brilliant UT graduate students, faculty, activities and a few of us who occupy the role of ELDERS. What made this so compelling is that we were joined by Dr. Victor Saenz and his colleagues, Dr. Luis Ponjuan and Dr. Emmet E, Campos who have for more than 9 years developed and sustained Project MALES, a school based peer and near-peer mentoring program that encourages and empowers middle and high school male students of color for student success and advancement to post secondary schooling.

Schools are falling FAR FAR short in reaching all males, but particularly males of color. I urge you to google Project MALES to learn more, especially if your professional mission intersects with young men whether in education, criminal justice or human services. Even as we rejoice in the triumphs of so many of our children and recognize that much progress has been made in many areas, we only need to listen to the news, look at the data and take a clear look at the prevalence of violent crime to come face to face that we need to be smarter about how we support all of our children, but particularly males, in their path to constructive adulthood.

This morning I was responding to a memory from Andy Porras, a friend from my home barrio of San Felipe in Del Rio, who recalled how when Little League (LL) first started in DR, it was exclusively Anglo. His Dad went to the LL organizers and asked that they integrate MA boys into the league. He was challenged to organize LL in the barrio and proceeded to do just that. I remember him well.

The teams remained segregated, but we had the benefit of some pretty spectacular African American players like Sidney, Roger, and Larvell Blanks who went on to professional sports careers. The LL games brought the community together and a number of men who would not have normally taken on leadership roles were right there with Mr. Porras, encouraging the boys and serving as parent/mentors to all the boys. I would venture to say that every single one of the boys involved in LL went on to productive lives, many went on to higher education and leadership roles, others went in to the military. I am sure many of you of my vintage can remember heroes similar to Mr. Porras in your communities.

But the truth is that much has changed since that time. So many of our families are led by single females and many do not have the benefit of the extended families and close communities we once enjoyed. As one of those females who raised a son, I stand with these strong, valiant women--but I also recognize how very hard that is, even with all the resources I had in my life. Boys just simply need good, loving, relevant males in their life, especially during the critical middle school years. But more and more our of schools are overwhelmingly female.

Teachers are as much as 85% female. Are they superbly good at the jobs, yes! Do they make great Principals and Superintendents, YES! But we still have to figure out how to best support male students. Our children are influenced greatly, whether we admit it or not, by social media, video games that glamorize aggression, the continued objectification of women and the glamorization of celebrity, visibility and the material. Moving into manhood has to be confusing, frightening and too often isolating.

Project MALES is one exciting, promising program. Undoubtedly other strategies specific to conditions on the ground in our communities would do much good. What is important is for us to not be blind to the need to reach out to boys beyond our own nuclear families, put an arm around a shoulder and say,"Andale Mijo! You can do it! Let me show you how!"