Mentoring program for Black men in Delaware looks to go global

Dr. Donald Morton hopes to mentor 10,000 Black men as part of his ReManned Project based out of Wilmington. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Dr. Donald Morton hopes to mentor 10,000 Black men as part of his ReManned Project based out of Wilmington. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

A Wilmington-based mentoring program hopes to help 10,000 Black men around the world process trauma and find success in their work and personal lives.

“We live in a society where Black men, believe it or not, are being more and more and further and further marginalized and relegated to the fringes every single day,” said Dr. Donald Morton, who leads the ReManned Project.

The six-month program is geared towards Black men over the age of 25, particularly men who have been incarcerated or struggled with unemployment. Morton said the minimum age gives them the opportunity to focus on men society may have counted out.

Participants in the program attend group meetings where they can connect with peers going through similar issues. They’re also connected with older men who serve as mentors. Together they work through a curriculum Morton calls the “character arc.”

“Our objective is to make sure that Black men have the tools necessary so that they can navigate the adverse realities that come with everyday life,” Morton said. “The gentlemen that are inside the ReManned Project have made significant mistakes, have significant challenges, and quite frankly, society has turned them away as if they can never make adjustments.”

Morton’s ambitious goal is to train thousands of men through an initiative he’s calling “Project 10,000” in coordination with other chapters in Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Houston, and Nairobi, Kenya. Currently, 15 men are being mentored in the Wilmington chapter by five coaches.

While the ReManned Project is more focused on helping individuals, Morton said he supports groups fighting for changes to systems that have led to Black men being incarcerated at a much higher rate than other groups. In Delaware, Black residents make up more than half of the state’s prison population, despite being only 23% of the state population.

“Black men deserve a second chance, a third chance, however many chances it takes to get right,” said Haneef Salaam, who works as manager of the ACLU of Delaware’s Campaign for Smart Justice. He’s worked for 15 years to help improve conditions for people reentering society after serving time in prison.

“I can remember being put in that very same position, making bad mistakes as a young adult landed me into incarceration and a cycle of recidivism,” Salaam said. “It wasn’t until the birth of my daughter that I decided that I wanted to man up. It’s time for me to be remade.”

The program has also gotten some local political support. Earlier this week, members of both Wilmington City Council and New Castle County Council presented resolutions declaring June 1 as “ReManned Project Day.”

Morton acknowledges that not everyone who has joined the program has made it through.

“We lost some. We have some guys that started the program and didn’t finish the program, dropped out of the program and were killed,” he said. “I remember that day like it was yesterday because I literally stayed in bed for a week.

Khalil Weeks has been in the program since January.

“It gives me the tools that I need to be, not just successful career-wise, but as a person. It’s very character-building,” said Weeks, who grew up in Philadelphia and now lives in Bear, Delaware.

Weeks said Morton’s demand for participants to be honest and authentic kickstarted his journey to becoming a new man.

“I took an oath [to be a] ‘serial truth-teller,’ and that was the start of the change in my life right there,” he said.

Eric Robinson, vice president of the ReManned Project board, said he frequently hears talk about under-resourced communities, but in his view, not enough time and energy is spent on helping individuals who need help gaining the skills needed to be successful, from mental health care to education.

“How can I actually walk in a way that my son or my family can follow after me if I’m ill-prepared or I don’t have the equipment mentally, emotionally, spiritually, education-wise, to actually do what is necessary, to not only provide for my family, but to actually be a productive citizen in my community?” Robinson said. “This is not just about helping one man. This is about helping a community of men that are crying for support.”

In addition to personal skill development and leadership training, the ReManned Project offers men financial advice, including the basics of banking and how to apply for loans, with the help of Matthew Parks, a vice president at Discover Financial Services.

“I’m willing to give my time, talent, and resources that I have available to make sure that the men have the knowledge, and a place to go to and ask for advice that may not always be available to them,” Parks said.

Morton also works with licensed behavioral health clinicians to evaluate potential participants to make sure they’re prepared to take part in the program.

“We dig deep into some of the trauma that these guys have experienced, some of the challenges with employment, some of the challenges with mindset, health issues that these guys are encountering,” he said. “You just can’t launch them into a process without kind of easing them into dealing with some of the things that they’ve had to encounter over time.”

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