Need 4 Bridges Helps Kids Identify with Success
By Dianne Anderson
It was a long week for Edward Clarke, who started at 5 a.m. to take his busload of kids campus hopping up north to San Luis Obispo and then off to UC Santa Barbara and CSU Northridge, swinging back around to UCLA, and finally ending with Universal Studios.
The kids had energy to spare. The adults reached for the Icy Hot.
“It was power-packed, we were walking about 1,000 miles,” laughs Edward Clarke, CEO of the Need 4 Bridges nonprofit in Fullerton.
But despite miles and miles that his nonprofit covers every year in field trips, in his view, it still falls far short of his long goal, getting all Black students primed and ready for college and graduation.
As a college counselor, he continues to see dropout rates climb in higher education, even though students come to campuses with the best intentions. There are obstacles to completion.
Many are missing out on early development and basic skills because they are not exposed to what they could become.
Growing up in Fullerton was widely considered a good area to live and learn for most people, but not for him. Clarke was kicked out of elementary school for reasons that didn’t become clear until he got older.
His childhood was rife with systemic microaggressions, from both students and teachers. He had to go to a private school by third grade.
“I didn’t realize it was racism. There were certain things that other kids could get away with that I couldn’t do. The consequences were more severe,” said Clarke, also a family therapist.
His life’s journey stemmed from stereotypes, that he unconsciously played out, living up to the way that society pegs Black men. He ended up in juvenile hall with an addiction. He sees the same dynamics at play today to drive young Black men away from their potential.
“I had this narrative to be Black that you had to be gangbanger or a dope dealer, growing up trying to find myself through this lens of what society tries to depict of us,” said Clarke, a college counselor and instructor at Santiago Canyon Community College.
While both white and Black men have similar challenges, he said white boys and men are generally viewed as having behavioral or mental health needs while Black boys and men are viewed as having criminal behaviors, and then incarcerated.
But he believes a lot of men that he sees in jail would have had a different experience if they had teachers or role models that looked like them, or at least someone with a topical understanding of the Black experience.
“There are a lot of good smart brothers that are incarcerated that just didn’t have guidance and influence,” he said. “We often see teachers in school are normally middle-aged white women with no predilection of some of the struggles and needs that Black men have.”
For years, Clarke worked to reverse the negative impacts and trajectory by giving incarcerated men a way to reintegrate back into society. Now, he brings some of those same skills to kids and families directly or indirectly influenced by incarceration or lack of positive role models.
He wants to catch them before they get caught up in the system.
Through his programs, students nine through 17 years access early intervention and prevention methods, including college field trips to campuses, which many don’t experience until after they graduate high school, if at all.
“[It’s] seeing positive models that we can model ourselves after to find identity, growth and a sense of belonging,” he said. “A lot of our students are of lower economic status. They don’t have that opportunity to travel and be introduced to things.”
The program is still small, and mostly out of pocket, but he said the one-on-one quality can’t be understated.
“We put them in places where they can discover and maximize what they have to make a living,” he said.
His youth center in Fullerton is open for tutoring three days a week, also offering periodic workshops and outside activities or field trips once a month on the weekends. The center is located at 3806 W. Commonwealth Ave.
Clarke, with a background in therapy and psychology, also uses his skills to help students take the next steps toward higher learning. Aside from mentoring, they help bridge the skills gap. Some of their youth have an IEP (Individualized Education Program), and some come from the foster care system. Others are from single-parent homes.
No one is turned away from the program, which is primarily focused on Black males. Coming soon, their team is also expanding to include a mentoring class for girls, and an arts program.
He said a big part of what stops students from succeeding is they don’t know how to get to the next level. To get there, he offers them career workshops, and assists with applications to help demystify the process.
“[It’s] getting introduced to different vocations that may be aligned to their talents, and giving them the resources to learn what skills they have on the inside of them,” he said
For more information, see www.need4bridges.org, call (714) 515-9629
or email, firstname.lastname@example.org