‘BRIDGE-ing’ the Gap

July 8, 2019, Department, by Elliott Brown, B.S., Marcus Coates, M.P.A.

2019 July BRIDGE ing the Gap 410

Contemporary programming for males in Generation ‘Next’

Young men of color across the country are facing tumultuous times, during which several external factors come into play to determine their future successes or failures. These young men are having trouble graduating from school, are encountering the criminal justice system at an alarming rate, find themselves amongst some of the lowest waged workers and are dying at an alarming rate. This is not to say that their destiny is predetermined. Key indicators can provide a glimpse into the potential of negative outcomes for males in Generation Z. From the moment these known precursors become apparent, they can be countered with guidance and care through quality, outcome-based programming.

Developing the training presentation for “BRIDGE-ing the Gap” was a labor of love for us, as we have spent our careers doing the very work we describe here. We have used the science of youth development — including cognitive, social and physical development — as components of our presentation, along with some of the key indicators we researched and observed.

What It Takes
Support systems are important in helping young people develop into life-long learners and responsible, civic-minded adults. Caring adults, positive relationships with peers, food, water, shelter and proper clothing all work together to help them focus in the classroom, develop appropriate relationships with others, find their sense of self/balance and grow overall. During our “What It Takes” icebreaker, we remove these structures one by one to demonstrate how difficult it becomes to manage growth in the absence of these supportive structures. Organizations and municipal agencies, such as park and recreation departments, can step into this void to enhance the lives of young people.

Social Issues
Young men of color, especially in urban environments like our nation’s capital, face a litany of obstacles: low graduation rates, alarming rates of incarceration, teen pregnancy and even death, to name a few. The average young man of color is either directly impacted by one of these socioeconomic issues or is only removed by a couple degrees of separation. This can cause mental, physical and emotional stress, which, in turn, creates a barrier to achieving success in the form of gainful employment, college acceptance and attendance, and strong mental and emotional health.

Professionals within recreation and leisure services can help counteract some of the issues young men of color face. One approach is the “if you build it, (they) will come” idea first made famous in movies, such as “Field of Dreams” and “Wayne’s World 2.” For example, the District of Columbia Department of Parks and Recreation has spent tens of millions of dollars building and renovating its facilities to provide adequate space and amenities for all our constituents. If we create welcoming, bright spaces, our youth, particularly young men, will come to play, learn and socialize. Another important park and rec role is the facilitation of positive relationships with adults. Taken together, the welcoming facilities and opportunities for positive adult interactions through program and activity development afford these young men a safe, comfortable space where they can relax, find mentors, and learn and grow.

Unlocking the Potential
BRIDGE stands for bonding, realism, identity, dreams, goal setting and exposure. These critical aspects of youth development, used in combination or individually, can help young people overcome most obstacles and begin to unlock their full potential. The following list includes a definition of these terms, the key skill-builders and best methods to achieve success:

Bonding builds strong relationships with participants by developing trust, providing consistency and care, and modeling positive behaviors.

  • Key skill builders: character and leadership
  • Best methods: talk, listen, establish and enforce rules, spend time together and be consistent

Realism helps individuals develop an understanding of the issues that surround them by focusing on the “why” to understand the reasons problems exist and how to address them.

  • Key skill builders: resiliency, mental durability, awareness, coping and honesty
  • Best methods: present facts, be clear and direct, and share past experiences

Identity helps develop an evaluation of self. Focuses on the question, “Who am I?”

  • Key skill builders: independence, self-awareness and discipline
  • Best methods: emphasize health values, highlight passions and strengths, support self-motivated activities and provide opportunities for them to help others

Dreams develop aspirations, whether unrealistic or practical.

  • Key skill builders: creativity and ambition
  • Best methods: provide resources needed for creative expression, allow autonomy to explore ideas and ask questions that spark dialogue

Goals develop (short-, mid- and long-term) objectives and plans that can be revisited.

  • Key skill builders: strategic planning and time management
  • Best methods: be supportive, develop S.M.A.R.T (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-specific) goals and create a S.W.O.T (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis.

Exposure develops an understanding of the infinite opportunities at their disposal.

  • Key skill builders: learning, conflict resolution and sense of higher purpose
  • Best methods: build effective community partnerships to leverage resources, provide workforce opportunities and create diverse programs and special events

Tools for Positive Impact
When developing a recreation center’s programmatic offerings, it is important to determine the likes and dislikes of the young men being served. Enlist their feedback about ongoing programs and activities, use outcome-based programming and keep them interested by engaging them in social activities with their peers (especially with those individuals who they do not know). This allows them to practice the skills they’re being taught and to build meaningful bonds with other young people.

Finally, be sure to give them access to new ideas and opportunities. Like their peers, young men of color need to be nurtured and supported, and park and recreation professionals can provide just that. We have a responsibility to do the best we can to foster relationships, set good examples, provide opportunities and show these young men they can be successful. Now that you are thinking about the impact that you can make, how will you be “BRIDGE-ing” the gap?

Elliott Brown, B.S., is Recreation Manager for D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation. Marcus Coates, M.P.A., is Interim Chief of Community Recreation for D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation.