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As a leader of the Winston-Salem Forsyth County community, the problem as I see it is the ever increasing gap between the have’s and the have not’s.  Of particular interest to me is the plight of the African American community.

According to the State Center for Health Statistics, African Americans in North Carolina have chronic problems with mortality, chronic diseases, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, health risk factors, access to health care, quality of life, maternal and infant health, and child and adolescent health.

The percentage of African American families living below the federal poverty level in1999 was 22.9 compared to 8.4 for Whites.  According to the NC Rural Economic Development Center the poverty rate in North Carolina increased from 2000 level of 12.3 percent to 15.0 percent for 2002-2003.  The recession and increasing unemployment rates in NC were thought to be the causes.

Further, African American females compared to 8 percent for White families headed approximately 42 percent of African American families.  Thirty-five percent of these female-headed African American families lived in poverty, compared to 29 percent of the families headed by White females.

Another major problem facing the African American community is the high incarceration of Blacks.  According to the NC Department of Corrections, January 2006, 1382 Blacks were incarcerated compared with 456 White.  From February 1, 2005 – January 31, 2006, 551 Blacks entered the prison system compared with 264 Whites.  Finally, as of January 2006 2161 Blacks were on probation compared with 1311 Whites.  Although I did not separate the genders, it is a known fact that Black men have the highest incarceration rate.

Low income, low educational levels, unemployment, drug use and abuse, as well as an unfair criminal justice system affects the way many Blacks see and think about themselves in the world.

Many African Americans battle low self-esteem.  Self-esteem is defined as the total of one’s self-confidence, self-worth, and self-respect.  Low self-esteem can cause you to have poor and dysfunctional relationships, can lead to depression and can create in your mind a very bleak and negative outlook on life.  A variety of factors can contribute to low self-esteem, including poor relationships with parents or siblings, being the victim of a physically, sexually, or mentally abusive relationship.  Experiencing racist or discriminatory practices in your professional and personal life can also lead to low self-esteem.

The plight of the African American family not only affects the African American community, but our entire society.  The feelings of hopelessness and despair are what drives so many African Americans to devalue their self worth and behave in ways in which are harmful to the entire community.

  1. Plan:

There have been many attempts to address the marginalization of African Americans.  These attempts are real and help in some respects, however, the gap that I have realized is that we attempt to address the symptoms of the disease, but we don’t address the core issues, such as poor self-esteem or dysfunctional family functioning.  I haven’t completed an extensive search of programs that are similar to the one that I embarked on.  I did however search for a curriculum that I could utilize and found that I needed to create a curriculum that was accessible to MTC participants, many of whom are on an 8th grade level.

More Than Conquerors, Inc. (MTC) believes that “We Can Change the Minds of the Next Generation.”   MTC believes that if your mind is changed, your outlook will change.  When your outlook is changed, then your whole life will change.  MTC is designed to produce cognitive and behavioral reorientation in African Americans who are at risk of the social and psychological ills named previously.  The program’s premise is that these people have learned unproductive patterns of interpreting, understanding, and thinking about themselves and their environment.  Consequently, they have adopted inadequate and unfruitful ways of behaving and reacting to their internal and external challenges.

This inside-outside-inside approach works by focusing first on some unhealthy aspect of the participant’s way of thinking, believing, or assigning value.  Then we offer the participant an alternative thought, belief, or evaluation.  Next, we urge him/her to experiment with a specific behavioral change that is consistent with the new alternative.  Finally, we reflect with the participant on how this behavioral change worked in the real world, and what this means for his/her self-understanding.  The goal of MTC is to help the participant gain self-awareness of his/her cognitive structure, help him/her to realize he/she can choose to act differently, and insure that he/she re-evaluates his/her preconceptions in light of his/her new experience and information.  This process, then, is educational, empowering, and transforming.  Through the support of professionally trained clinicians, and volunteer Life Skill Coaches, MTC guides program participants in reshaping the way they think and act.

MTC’s focus is threefold:  First, to reorient the self-image and self-value of the participants.  Second, to empower participants with a stronger sense of their capacity to make good choices, follow through, and thus exercise agency in determining the direction and quality of their lives.  Third, to teach the participants skills for coping healthfully and successfully with life’s challenges and opportunities.

More Than Conquerors (MTC) was inaugurated May 2004.  The first informational meeting took place on May 27, 2004.  At the first meeting the directors met with four other interested program members.  This core group met monthly for the next year determining the logo, preparing the paperwork for incorporation, and plotting the course for how MTC would take shape.  This core group also handpicked other members that would become the Executive Board of MTC.  The first focus group was held at the home of the directors on March 19, 2005.  MTC hosted four such meetings soliciting information from potential participants on the direction and focus of the program.  The first formal board meeting was held at the Hawthorne Inn July 28, 2005.   It was determined that the orientation session for MTC would take place on October 1, 2005 at Wake Forest University Divinity School.  At the Orientation session MTC was unveiled to the community.  At the conclusion of the meeting MTC had three Life Skill Coach applications and eight participant applications.  The first group session was held November 8, 2005 at Green Street United Methodist Church and the first Life Skill Coach training took place November 5, 2005 at Wake Forest University Divinity School.

MTC has four program phases and each has its own unique emphasis:  Phase I – Self Image, Phase II – Relationship Building, Phase III – Sex/Sexuality, and Phase IV – Social Integration.  Each phase lasts for three months, therefore, a complete cycle lasts for one year.  The program phases are ordered so that we address the core issue of self-worth and then move to building healthy relationships.  A person is unable to build healthy relationships until they themselves are healthy.  Next, due to the fact that we live in such a sexual society we thought we needed to address sex and sexuality.  Finally, we conclude with how participants can and should integrate all of their yearlong learning.

MTC program participants are required to attend a monthly 1 ½ hour group session, a monthly 2 hour workshop, and interact with their Life Skill Coach (LSC) as much as needed.  LSC’s are staff and volunteer members of the community who believe in the mission of MTC and are committed to our program goals.  MTC has five trained Life Skill Coaches.  The mentoring program is modeled somewhat after the Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization.  Volunteers are trained and assigned to a program participant.

III.      Budget

MTC not only solicits grants, it also solicits personal and business donations.  Donors can send their support monthly, quarterly, or yearly.  Currently, MTC is working on an Annual Fund that will kick off some time toward the conclusion of this first year.

  1. Service:

Initially interested participants complete both an application and a Needs Assessment.

Through the support of professionally trained clinicians, and volunteer Life Skill Coaches, MTC guides program participants in reshaping the way they think and act.  MTC mentors individuals who are committed to changing their life’s negative perception and direction.

The program has structured requirements that are designed for participants to complete within 12 to 18 months.  MTC also partners with other community agencies to ensure that program participants have access to other community resources.

  1. Evaluation:

Again, this program is exploring its efforts to help at risk African Americans in the Winston-Salem Forsyth County community.  Currently, MTC administers an evaluation following each phase for both the workshops and the group sessions.  The survey is a quantitative tool used to measure the impact of the program subject and the program facilitators.  Using a Likert Scale, participants share whether they liked or disliked the subject matter and the facilitators.

MTC will also utilize quantitative measures to steer the direction of the program.  Throughout the workshops, and especially the group sessions, participants are sharing their own life experiences.  This, along with the needs assessments will also help determine the course of MTC.

At the conclusion of the first phase MTC learned that we needed to work harder to be certain that all the material was assessable to the participants.  Several participants, as well as, volunteers commented that they did not fully understand a facilitator.  Given this information the board determined that the primary goal of both groups and workshops were to address the needs of the participants, therefore, every facilitator needed to understand fully the target audience.

I am proud to say that each of the ten participants stayed on for the second phase.  All of them said that they believe that MTC is helping to meet their particular needs.

MTC will be working hard throughout the summer to solicit other Life Skill Coaches who can mentor program participants.  MTC is also looking to expand our board member capacity.  Currently we have seven board members.