882 Oakman Blvd.
Detroit, Michigan 48238
As the leader of Neighborhood Service Organization’s Youth Initiative Project (YIP), Frank McGhee sees the potential of young people from some very tough neighborhoods; he guides them through the process of addressing issues that trouble their community, and they grow as leaders along the way.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Neighborhood Service Organization Youth Initiatives Project Program Director Frank McGhee
: Leadership is ability to influence others to go in that direction of leadership because of the way you carry yourself and arrive at decisions. It’s about setting goals. When you set goals consistently others see that and will learn to do as you do. It’s serving as an example to others. That is important because our community needs leaders right now more than ever.
What is your dream for kids?
My dream would be that they finish high school and enroll in college or a trade program. It is important they get an education because of the challenges of the school-to-prison pipeline. We’re seeing a lot of males of color disproportionately affected by issues of poverty, violence in the community, and inadequate or poor education. By the time they get to middle and high
We’re seeing a lot of males of color disproportionately affected by issues of poverty, violence in the community, and inadequate or poor education.
school they face some challenges. We want to see them graduate and enroll into college and trade programs and keep moving forward. Many young men have done just that.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
To improve that, we’re going to have to leverage more dollars to support the nonprofit industry. We’re facing the severe stress of cutbacks all the time in federal funds, and it does impact the nonprofit work we need to really make a difference. We use different strategies to offset what is not there. It would make perfect sense to me to get more young people involved in the training process -- training youth who went through these challenges to help others who are facing them now.
How do you know you’re making progress?
We do pre- and post-surveys looking at participants’ attitudes about violence, about education, and about use of illegal drugs, so if work is to be done we know right there. We also have a grant from the Skillman Foundation so we have dug even deeper to address issues of literacy as well, looking at reading levels, ability to write proficiently, and ability to address mathematical concepts. We’re also looking at their ability to use those skills to help others: you have been tutored and now you can do the same for your peers who have been struggling.
I knew our “Grads, Not Inmates” campaign would be successful, but it’s truly captured the attention of our young people
The perception that youth who live in urban environments cannot be salvageable creates barriers.
because so many of them have relatives who are incarcerated. It was designed by the youth themselves to address the school-to-prison pipeline and really promoted education as a way to not get caught up in the prison pipeline. It was targeted to male students who at one point in time were involved in gang activity. We’d provide them with mentoring and with tutoring to help them succeed. It’s about being able to achieve, connecting with resources that can help you thrive.
What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of the success of my youth, one of whom is my daughter who grew up in the program as well. She has done two documentaries and does a lot of public speaking. She’s done a lot over the years to support the cause. We also had a young lady who went to Central High School and was in the marching band, and teachers were discouraging her from her goal to work as an engineer. She now is living in DC and working as a successful engineer. We also have a young man whose reading skills were barely a blip on the screen when he started with us. By his senior year, he was class president and had started a male leadership program. He got a scholarship to Alabama A&M and started three male leadership programs to help freshman stay in school. He’s graduating this Saturday.
What perceptions, messages, or historical influences create the most significant barriers to engaging Michigan citizens in helping vulnerable children?
The perception that youth who live in urban environments cannot be salvageable creates barriers. We are losing a generation because of that perception, but there are many young people who want to step up and do things, and they just need the opportunity and the support to get it done. They need consistency and support. Too often a male will come in to talk to them, and they don’t see him again, or they don’t see him until the next semester. Being consistent makes a difference.