WOODLAWN — Mayor Rahm Emanuel publicly pushed Cubs President Theo Epstein to do more to help support mentoring programs for Chicago youth, particularly on the South Side — deep in White Sox territory.
Emanuel brought Epstein to Hyde Park Academy, 6220 S. Stony Island Ave., Wednesday to participate in a session of the Becoming a Man mentoring program in the hopes that his Foundation to Be Named Later and other foundations will pitch in to help expand the program.
Epstein sat with about 20 high school students for nearly an hour while they talked about their highs and lows over the last few days, including coping with parents who were splitting up and the constant flooding of a grandmother’s home.
“I was really impressed with the candor, how the kids were willing to open up about their worlds to a complete stranger,” Epstein said afterward.
The program has been praised by former President Barack Obama and others for its approach to the problems young men face in Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods.
BAM borrows from cognitive behavioral therapy to bring together a group of 15 young men once a week with mentors to talk about the problems they're facing and to think actively about how they’re addressing them constructively.
Epstein said the program fits in well with the efforts his foundation is trying to support, and he is eager to look into how he can help.
The visit was part of a three-year effort by Emanuel to raise $36 million for Becoming a Man from corporate leaders, and to expand the program to 7,200 students from 5,000 in 22 neighborhoods most affected by violence.
The program has seen initial success. University of Chicago researchers have found the program has reduced violent crime arrests by 50 percent and reduced total arrests by 35 percent for young men in the program compared to those who are not from 2013-15. Researchers also found kids in the program were 19 percent more likely graduate from high school on time compared to peers not in the program.
Emanuel said police will always be a part of combating crime in the city, but mentoring programs like BAM are part of solving the underlying conditions that drive crime in the city.
Emanuel said for too long gangs have been allowed to step in and become the mentor, employer, family and community that kids are looking for. He said he wants to expand BAM's ability to provide an alternative source to meet those needs.
“It gives them a sense of themselves and their ability to not only not give up on themselves, but they have a network and a community to rely on and a sense that they have all that potential,” Emanuel said.
A.J. Watson, executive director of BAM, said the program teaches core values about setting goals and striving for them with integrity and accountability through any failures in life.
He said part of the process for kids is learning to express their anger constructively, “like a warrior and not like a savage.”
Emanuel said his goal is to expand the program from the eighth, ninth and 10th grades to include seventh- and 11th-grade students.