Wayne State’s chapter of the Student African American Brotherhood

Wayne State’s chapter of the Student African American Brotherhood held its first “SAAB Saturday” event Feb. 22 in the African Room of Manoogian Hall. WSU hosted dozens of SAAB students from other regional chapters, including University of Toledo, Tiffin University, Wilberforce University, Ohio Northern University, Black Male Engagement-Detroit, and Bridging Lost Gaps at Madonna University.

“SAAB is committed to ensuring that its members graduate from colleges and universities throughout the United States with the skills and motivation essential for future success,” according to an email announcement for the event. “SAAB provides African-American males (and all students with similar interests), with high impact academic and professional development programs to enhance their intellectual growth, social capital and leadership skills.” SAAB was founded in 1990 at Georgia Southwestern State University, according to the organization website.

Student members proudly recited the SAAB affirmation at the beginning of the event, followed by the motto: “I am my brother’s keeper and together we will rise; saving lives and salvaging dreams.”

Inspiration and bridge building were main components of the program. WSU SAAB members gave presentations on leadership, self-esteem and the importance of being a positive role model for others. In addition to providing inspiration, the event acknowledged the reality young men of color face when dealing with law enforcement officers. A short film called “10 Rules for Dealing with Police,” produced by the nonprofit Flex Your Rights organization, was shown to members.

“It’s not the most positive thing,” WSU SAAB Advisor Henry Robinson said regarding the presentation. “But it’s something that every man of color needs to know. It’s like medicine — you don’t like it at the time, but should you need it, it’s like a vaccine shot … it protects you from disease.”

“Sometimes as a male of color you are presumed guilty until you’ve proved your self innocent,” he said.

The event occurred just a week before President Barack Obama announced the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, which aims to advance opportunities for young men of color. According to the White House website, “this includes ensuring access to basic health, nutrition, and to high-quality early education to get these kids reading and ready for school at the youngest age.”

“It aligns with what SAAB has been doing for 25 years, so you know we’re already on board with that,” said Jerome Bledsoe, office manager for SAAB National Headquarters.

Creating opportunities for minority students remains an issue on college campuses nationwide. On Feb. 18, the United Coalition for Racial Justice rallied University of Michigan students, faculty and community members for a “Speak Out” event to protest low enrollment rates of students of color, as well as a “poor racial climate,” according to the event announcement. The event garnered nationwide attention through social media, particularly Twitter, where hashtags such as #BBUM and #SpeakOutUM were trending topics.

Dwight McDonald, the SAAB WSU membership chair, said in general, WSU has more issues with segregation than racial tension.

“If you walk into the Wayne State Student Center, you still see certain races (staying) together … I feel as though that’s something we have to do on our own; we have to actually take a step and reach out to other people,” McDonald said. “I believe movements can help with that, but at the same time I think it’s more so on us as individuals to say we’re going to spread out instead of keeping (to ourselves).”

But SAAB WSU President Lawrence Robinson said isolation is still a reality for many college students of color.

“Belonging, support, accountability and the culture — those are some of the main things that young African-American and Latino — you know, men of color — say they lack on a college campus,” Lawrence Robinson said.

“Belonging means more than what money can buy … that’s why gangs are so big and so successful — because a person just wants to belong,” he said. “Somebody’s got their back, somebody cares about them, so they’re willing to go out and rob and steal and kill just to belong in a group.”

Because of this, Bledsoe said SAAB wants to be an “alternate family” for men who lack a traditional one. And this goal isn’t limited to black male students — although “African-American” is in the organization’s name, SAAB members said membership is open to males of any ethnic or racial background.

“This group is definitely not one that is closed off to non-African-Americans,” Co-Academic Chair Joshuel Frye said. “If anything, it’s here for other ethnicities and other cultures to get an exposure to African-Americans.”

“I like the idea of SAAB,” Financial Chair Will Russell said. “I’m doing my student teaching because I’m going to graduate in May, and at the school I’m at, there’s only one black male classroom teacher … every other male in the building is either an administrator, janitor or a paraprofessional, so when I walked in … and when (the kids) saw me actually in the classroom, it was just like total shock. So it’s part of showing that black men do go to college, black men do graduate and then they do come back to the community to help them and mold them.”

“It’s an opportunity to change the perception, change the image of us on campus, and you know, I guess also change the statistics about the black males on campus,” Communications Chair Frank Addo said. “It’s up to us to change that because the graduation rates are terrible, especially for us African-Americans. So we want to change that and make sure we graduate. That’s what SAAB represents to me.”

In addition to SAAB Saturday, SAAB WSU will sponsor the 10th Annual SAAB National Conference at the Adoba Hotel in Dearborn on March 28-29. This will be the first time the conference is held in Michigan. More information is available at http://www.saabnational.org/.

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