June 16, 2024

After a long drive north, a bus of more than 50 high school students from Sacramento and the Central Valley arrived in Humboldt last month. For many, it was their first time seeing tall redwood trees and the Pacific Ocean. All young men of color aspiring to someday become college graduates, the students visited Humboldt State University with Improve Your Tomorrow (IYT), a nonprofit organization designed to help traditionally underrepresented male students go to and graduate from college.

Founded by HSU alumni Michael Lynch (‘11, Business Administration), IYT has served thousands of young men across California through mentorship, tutoring, college advising, and community investment. Last Fall, IYT kicked off their first semester of programming at HSU, a longtime goal for Lynch who recalls his own transformative experience at Humboldt.

“My professors and classmates got me thinking about the purpose of my education and how to live a life of service,” says Lynch, who now oversees more than 200 team members at 51 IYT school sites from Modesto to Arcata.

The IYT framework is a commitment to mentorship. Students as young as seventh grade are matched with IYT mentors at partner high schools and colleges. “We know students need support for every major transition in their lives to stay in school,” explains Lynch.

IYT’s track record is impressive: 99% of African-American IYT students graduate from high school, compared to 75% statewide. And while only 53% of Latino and African-American males go to college in California, 84% of IYT graduates do.

“Partnering with IYT supports HSU’s campus culture by attracting ambitious young men who are mentored and developed to be leaders throughout middle school and high school,” explains Director of Admissions Peter Martinez. “As these talented students arrive at HSU, they will find their way into various student organizations and cultural centers to become active leaders creating positive change across our community.”

Back on campus, the IYT high school students start their weekend with the IYT Brotherhood Pledge, calling out, “We are college-bound brothers. We believe in each other.” Next, HSU’s very first IYT mentors, sophomore Luis Reyes and junior Matt Aung, welcome the students to campus. The pair speak about their own experiences at HSU, offering advice on how to balance personal and academic success in a new and different environment.

Reyes is a psychology major who was introduced to IYT at Valley High School in Sacramento, where he was an IYT mentee for four years. He was happy to see the program arrive at HSU this semester and hopes to continue working in a mentorship role as a high school counselor after graduation. He tells the young students about the opportunities to explore Humboldt County––his favorite spot is Fern Canyon––and encourages them to find campus resources, like IYT, wherever they end up going to college. “Support is out there,” says Reyes, who is proud to mentor other young men of color at HSU. “IYT is always a safe space on campus.”

Aung is a triple major, studying Art History, Studio Art, and Art Education. He talks to the IYT brothers about the small class sizes and personal attention they’ll get at HSU. “The student to teacher ratio is 17:1 which helps everyone feel like somebody,” says Aung. Like many HSU students, Aung chose the campus for a change of scenery and the chance to try new things. “Be open minded and don’t limit yourself,” Aung tells his IYT mentees.

Lynch echoes the same philopsophy about education and opportunity, explaining how a negative framework has put the burden of a perceived achievement gap on Black and brown boys from a young age. IYT operates with the goal of flipping the script for the next generation, envisioning a country where young men of color are overrepresented in higher education, and underrepresented in the criminal justice system.

As IYT builds out their HSU programming, they plan to partner with area junior high and high schools, in addition to offering more internships and career development opportunities. Currently, emergency grants of up to $500 per semester are available for IYT mentees in financial need.

Additionally, IYT will partner with existing campus programs that serve traditionally underrepresented students, including the Diverse Male Scholars Initiative, TRIO, ITEPP, and the Umoja Center for Pan African Excellence. With valuable resources and knowledgeable staff already in place, IYT expects their mentorship program to grow and thrive on the North Coast over the next several years.

IYT is about giving young men of color the support they need to achieve their dreams and make an impact in their communities,” says Lynch. “Higher education is a powerful pathway.”

To learn more about Improve Your Tomorrow, visit improveyourtomorrow.org.

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