State Rep. Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV, also a local pastor, speaks during a rally at Pine Bluff High School Friday . (Special to The Commercial/William Harvey)
State Rep. Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV announced the creation of the Men Who Care Project at Pine Bluff High School Friday morning.
With PBHS principal Michael Nellums, district interim Superintendent Linda Watson, school board members, and members of the community gathered around him, Wilkins said that the project will create a cadre of 250 men to serve as mentors to at-risk male students at the high school.
“We already have one hundred men on board and have a goal of 250 who will engage and inspire and in so doing reduce the violence and bullying that causes conflict within the school,” said Wilkins, also pastor of St. James United Methodist Church.
“We aim to create a bastion of real and progressive education at Pine Bluff High School,” he said. “We will organize fathers, grandfathers, uncles and cousins for this effort.”
Wilkins said that one of the reasons for low academic achievement rates among black males is the lack of positive male role models in their lives.
“These men will be able to help with the issue of school security,” Wilkins said. “In addition to being additional eyes and ears on campus they will serve as mentors and encourage the students. We ask that these men commit to at least one day per semester and we know that some will be committing one day per month or even one day per week as their schedules allow.”
Wilkins said that Nellums will have the authority to assign the volunteers as needed.
“Male student achievement should be a concern to all of us,” Wilkins said. “It may not affect you right now but the lack of success by our male students will affect all of us in the future. We have twice the national and even the state average in drop-out rates for black male students. The average student in this situation represents less than five percent of college students.”
Student support system
Wilkins said that many young black males in the community do not get the support that they need.
“When they don’t get that support needed for success in the community it falls upon the schools to provide that support,” Wilkins said. “We recognize that the schools need help. Standardized tests are given to our students as part of an intense focus on accountability with the intention of addressing student weaknesses. Students in this situation tend to see themselves as deficits and we begin to lose sight of their gifts.”
“We are here today to create a sense of urgency to let it be known that there are men who care,” Wilkins said.
Watson thanked the state legislator for leading the initiative.
“This is one of the initiatives within the school district for creating strong role models for our students,” Watson said. “Positive role models will allow our children to succeed. Speaking on behalf of the board, myself and I believe this community, we are so happy to have Men Who Care in the Pine Bluff School District.”
Nellums also thanked Wilkins for his efforts on behalf of Pine Bluff High School.
“On behalf of the school, I want to thank the pastor and thank all of you for being here,” Nellums said. “I know we can get there together. I look forward to us rolling up our sleeves and getting the work done. I appreciate your commitment to being agents of change for our community. When the average black male student graduates reading at an eighth grade level we’ve all got a problem.”
Wilkins said that he came up with the idea for Men Who Care after reading about problems at PBHS.
“We just started this last week,” Wilkins said. “I spoke to the superintendent and the principal and I told Principal Nellums that I would like to get a group of men together who would spend some time with the difficult youngsters. Statistically there are 250 male students at the high school currently in the justice system. That’s not counting those who may have been through it while at Jack Robey (junior high.) I am so thankful to the men who have agreed to make time in their schedules to be here today and to participate in this program.”