A mentorship program that reaches teens where they are—on social media
A D.C. founder designed a leadership program that empowers young people to use their screen time for good.
Three years ago I was volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club in Washington, D.C. when I had a light bulb moment. I was in a room attempting to give a presentation on decision-making to a group of 15 young men who were anything but engaged. From the moment I walked into their space, they never put down their cell phones, I never had their attention. I quickly realized that I was competing with Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook. This was a sink or swim moment—I could either spend the next hour harassing them to put their phones away or figure out a way to engage them in a way that my PowerPoint and icebreakers were not doing.
I asked these young men to take out their phones and tell me what entertainers they follow on social media and why did they decide to follow them. The responses were immediate! Not only did they tell me, but they showed me videos, pictures, and links in a case to bolster why they made the decision to follow these entertainers and influencers. From that moment on, I knew that social media was going to be the tool I used to talk about leadership, conflict resolution, decision-making, communication and advocacy when called on to present to a group of high school youth.
Since that day, I have held Passport to Manhood & Smart Girl Social Media Leadership Summits in D.C. and New York that focus on leadership but through lens of social media. My goal is to show our young people how the content they produce speaks to their character, how the people they follow can impact their thinking, how the cell phone in their hands can change their community, and how social media can impact the direction of their lives in a positive or negative way.
The majority of the young people we work with have cell phones. In some cases, the cell phone takes the place of the PC in the household. Our young men and women are growing up with devices that give them unlimited reach and access to all types of information. If they are not careful, they can become addicted to the wrong images, messages and false lifestyles that are based at their fingertips. If gone unchecked our young people could get involved in cyberbullying, lose their identity, and seek love on platforms that will never love them back.
Our summits speak to all of these potential outcomes. We challenge our young people’s thinking regarding how they use social media and provide interactive examples about using social media in a way that can be fun and beneficial for them and their communities. We are able to reinforce positive messaging around decision-making, leadership, advocacy and communication in a way that our young men and women understand.
As our summits continue to grow and as we begin to show outcomes based in data and success stories, I believe that social media can be a tool that helps mentors everywhere. Our young people are online on a near-constant basis, according to a report by the Pew Research Center. This is their language and we need to speak it if we want to encourage and mentor them.