Focused Black student making notes while studying in cafe
Antione D. Tomlin, PhD headshot

Antione D. Tomlin, PhD, PCC

Associate Professor and Director of Academic Literacies Tutoring Center

Anne Arundel Community College

Kenneth Gilliard, M.S

Kenneth Gilliard, MS

Student Success and Retention Advisor, Student Achievement and Success Program

Anne Arundel Community College

As Black male community college educators, we find it fitting, as we approach the midpoint of the semester, to share some tips and strategies for supporting Black male students. While these insights originate from our experiences as both Black male students and educators in higher education, we firmly believe they can be valuable and applicable to anyone supporting Black male students, whether in K-12 or higher education settings. 

Far too often, Black male students lack the necessary support to thrive academically, prompting us to offer practical tips that educators can readily incorporate into their practices. However, we acknowledge that these tips serve as just a starting point. We urge our colleagues to continuously seek out additional resources and support systems to aid Black male students, recognizing that there are no quick fixes or one-size-fits-all solutions to addressing mindset shifts and providing equitable opportunities for their success. 

Moreover, let us be clear: It is not Black male students who need to change, but rather us, the educators, who must evolve our thinking and approaches to cultivate safer environments that promote connection, belonging, and achievement. Therefore, in our efforts to expand opportunities, we must understand that this is not a concern for Black male students to do something differently; it is an issue that requires collective action and reflection among educators.

Gilliard Tip 1: Create Supportive Spaces, Communities, and Resources—and Address Systemic Barriers

Take a deeper approach and get to know the why and not just the who in that moment. In the perspective of an archaic education system that was not built with the Black male or any minority student in mind, it is important to view the holistic student. Recognize and address the systemic barriers and challenges that disproportionately impact Black male students, such as financial insecurity, lack of access to academic support services, and experiences of racism and discrimination. 

One of the great marvels of life is that no one experiences the same thing the same way as the next, as our lives are a culmination of our experiences, factors, and attributes not limited to mental, physical, spiritual, intellectual, social, occupational, financial, environmental, and mental. In doing so, we must also understand and interrupt our own unconscious bias that we all possess to help meet students where they are while challenging them to rise to their potential. Provide targeted resources and interventions to address these barriers, including financial aid and scholarship opportunities, academic advising and tutoring services, culturally responsive counseling and mental health support, and initiatives to promote equity and inclusion on campus. Additionally, advocate for policies and practices that dismantle systemic inequities and create a more supportive and inclusive campus environment for all students, regardless of race or background. 

By proactively addressing these challenges and providing tailored support, staff can help empower Black male students to thrive academically and achieve their goals. Establish safe and supportive spaces on campus where Black male students can connect with one another, share experiences, and find a sense of belonging. This could include affinity groups, student organizations, or dedicated spaces within existing campus resource centers. Encourage faculty and staff to actively engage with these students, listen to their concerns, and provide additional support as needed. By fostering a sense of community and belonging, you can help empower Black male students to succeed academically and thrive personally.

Gilliard Tip 2: Provide Mentorship and Guidance

Offer mentorship programs specifically tailored to the needs of Black male students. Assign students mentors who can offer academic, social, and career guidance, as well as provide support and encouragement. These mentors should understand the unique challenges and experiences that Black male students may face and be able to offer culturally relevant advice and assistance. 

Additionally, provide opportunities for peer mentoring, where successful Black male students can serve as role models and mentors for their peers. Pairing students with faculty, staff, or peer mentors who share similar backgrounds or experiences can provide invaluable guidance, encouragement, and support. These mentorship relationships can help students navigate academic challenges, set goals, access resources, and develop essential skills for success—both inside and outside the classroom. Additionally, fostering a sense of community through student organizations, support groups, and networking events can create spaces where Black male students feel understood, empowered, and connected to their peers and mentors.

Tomlin Tip 1: Be Real, Authentic, and You!

As a faculty member, what I’ve learned is that the Black male students I encounter are seeking genuine connection, relationship, and guidance. It does not serve me to be anyone except who I am. I pride myself on being authentic in all situations, circumstances, and environments. This realization has been particularly meaningful in my work with and support of Black male students. 

As a Black, gay male, I openly embrace all aspects of my identity with my students, especially my Black male students. I recognize that all of my identities contribute to who I am, and it’s the authenticity with which I present myself that my Black male students appreciate most. Therefore, I encourage my colleagues who are supporting Black male students to show up genuinely and authentically—while also holding themselves accountable for mistakes. As a human, I acknowledge that I don’t always get it right, and I often make mistakes in supporting my Black male students. However, I lean into modeling self-awareness and accountability to create spaces of safety, connection, and belonging for my students. 

To my colleagues, I encourage you to ask for help when needed, to be yourselves, and to remember that Black male students are the narrators of their own stories. They should be allowed the space to be as genuine and authentic as we strive to be with them. This simple tip can go a long way, as Black male students have a keen sense of detecting inauthenticity. Once they perceive someone as inauthentic, it’s challenging to regain their trust. Sometimes, you may only have one opportunity to connect with a Black male student, so it’s crucial to be mindful of every interaction and make that one attempt count.

Tomlin Tip 2: Show Up, Even When It’s Hard

In my experience as both a Black male student and a Black male educator, I’ve observed that many people tend to dismiss Black male students if they don’t excel academically or conform to a certain appearance associated with intelligence. We need to eradicate the biases, stereotypes, and stigmas attached to the perception that Black men don’t care enough or try hard enough to pursue education. 

Although it’s disheartening that I still need to address this in 2024, I’ve encountered colleagues seeking support because they struggle to assist their Black male students effectively. While I’m willing to help colleagues develop strategies for supporting their Black male students, I take issue with colleagues who make assumptions about why their Black male students are struggling, having sudden class absences, lack of communication, or poor performance on assignments. Many Black male students are accustomed to being judged, and educators’ perceived lack of motivation to help them succeed only reinforces these negative perceptions and experiences. 

Therefore, colleagues, when faced with challenges in supporting your Black male students, start by asking them what they need. While they may not always have a clear answer—or a concise way to articulate it—providing them with a space to share their experiences and obstacles can help dispel any assumptions we might inadvertently make based on preconceived notions. This approach isn’t difficult, but it’s often overlooked. So, the next time you’re supporting a Black male student, consider asking open-ended questions about how you can assist and give yourself the space to listen. Remember the importance of waiting, and if you find yourself talking too much or making assumptions, WAIT and ask yourself, “Why Am I Talking?” Sometimes, offering a listening ear is the most valuable form of support.

Authors Bios:

Antione D. Tomlin, PhD, PCC, is a tenured Associate Professor and Director of Academic Literacies Tutoring Center at Anne Arundel Community College. Dr. Tomlin is also an ICF Certified Life Coach. Feel free to reach out at or on X (Twitter) @Tomlinantione.

Kenneth Gilliard, MS, is a Student Success and Retention Advisor with the Student Achievement and Success Program at Anne Arundel Community College. Kenneth is also the President and CEO of his company, Gilliard and Co. LLC – Event Planner and Travel Agent.

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Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the view of Interfolio.