The Helios Education Foundation recently awarded St. Petersburg College a $1.6 million grant to support African American male students on their journey from high school to a bachelor’s degree.
St. Petersburg College (SPC) is preparing to launch its Florida African American Male Experience (FAAME) initiative in May. In addition to providing funding, FAAME provides a vast support network to ensure academic success through each stage of their pursuit of a degree. Other community partners include LEAP Tampa Bay and Take Stock in Children.
SPC’s Brother to Brother Program oversees the FAAME initiative. Brother to Brother supplies intentional and direct resources to provide an additional layer of academic, professional and social support. Antonio Seay, program manager for Brother to Brother, explained that enrollment for male students is down, and enrollment for Black male students has dropped precipitously.
“When you look at some of the factors in terms of maybe their home environments, economic inputs – there’s a lot of barriers those students have to overcome,” Seay said. “So, when you look at the program, what we want to do is give students a wraparound service in terms of having support.”
Seay said when young men enter the program, they will meet the college’s team of supporters to realize they have advocates eager to guide them on their journey. Seay has a background in finance, and financial aid is a key aspect of the program. However, FAAME also looks to eliminate other barriers – so that students can focus on school and become the best versions of themselves.
In addition to the scholastic curriculum, Seay stressed that the program goes much deeper than grades.
“They’re going to come out with their degree, but we also want to help them grow in terms of being a man,” Seay said emphatically.
Seay said learning how to deal with life’s obstacles as a responsible man in the community is just as important as receiving an education. He said FAAME helps guide these young Black men on family issues, budgeting, understanding the importance of building credit and perhaps the trickiest endeavor for any young man – navigating relationships.
FAAME will also provide other support services, and Seay said the idea is to give the students a complete package of knowledge and help.
“So, as they go out into the world, they are ready,” he said.
The Brother to Brother program began in 2020, and FAAME’s leadership is in the process of hiring coordinators and getting the new initiative off the ground. Seay said everything should be in place by March, and the school plans to bring in the first group of students following high school graduation this summer.
Seay said he and his cohorts are actively recruiting students and going through the interview process. The program is open to African American males in the county, and Seay said organizers try to ascertain the level of desire and commitment prospective students have for higher education. The program’s educational focus is ensuring a clear path to a bachelor’s degree and perhaps a graduate degree, and Seay said they have to be realistic that some may want to go into trades.
Seay said the Helios grant is crucial to FAAME’s mission of graduating students without relying on student loans.
“One of the goals is getting students through with less debt,” said Seay. “And it helps us to offer some of the other services such as some training and bringing speakers in to make some positive deposits in a young man’s life.”
Seay said the program teaches students to invest in themselves. He understands people go to school to receive a degree in the hopes of improving income opportunities, but also believes it is a chance to empower students to make a difference in their personal lives and the community.
While Seay hopes to attract students from high school and guide them through their bachelor’s degree, he said FAAME also hopes to partner with other higher education institutions to ensure the same level of support is available in other places.
“Some students say they want to go to USF,” he said. “We want to be able to pass them off in terms of having that relationship, so they won’t have a situation where they don’t have that support network.”
Seay looks forward to graduating young men that can come back and perhaps work at SPC or as local teachers or high school administrators. He hopes those alumni will encourage other young African American men to enter the program and realize what is attainable.
Seay said he tries to convey to students that FAAME is a partnership. If they have the desire, he will meet them halfway. He said he also sets realistic expectations and explains the challenges they may face on their journey, in addition to any residual challenges from their backgrounds.
“But what we want you to know is that you’ve got support,” said Seay. “From that standpoint, as long as you don’t quit, we’re not going to quit on you.”