Group aims to foster mentorship, sense of belonging for Black male students

February 13, 2024
Three students who are members of The League pose for a photo on the left side. On the right side, members of The League talk amongst each other.

A new group known as The League is working to foster mentorship and enrich the lives of Black male students at University of Detroit Mercy. 

The League is a learning community for Black male students, faculty and staff on UDM’s McNichols Campus. It started in fall 2023 and is headed up by ReBUILDetroit staff Airik Sanders ’20 and Tommie Smith ’15. 

“The program is geared toward engaging students outside of the classroom to give them a sense of belonging, leadership opportunities and opportunities to network with their peers,” said Sanders, the ReBUILDetroit community college coordinator. 

“Students that feel supported tend to gravitate to that certain university,” added Smith, the director of Student Success for ReBUILDetroit. “We just want to make sure that we establish that here.” 

The League meets throughout the academic year for social engagement and mentorship activities. Meetings include a roundtable discussion, where students can talk about the challenges that they are dealing with in a safe space.  

The discussions also allow employees, who have been in students’ shoes at one point, to pass on the life lessons and experiences they’ve learned. 

“We don’t want to carry the conversation, we want the conversation to be open and they can actually lead it,” Sanders said. “We as a staff have a plethora of wisdom that they don’t know that they need. We want to be a sounding board for them. 

“When we talk about Black History Month, that comes from lineage, and the older you are, you have more history and lineage that has been bestowed onto us by our forefathers who were part of the Civil Rights Movement. We got that firsthand from them, and we’re the age of their parents. So now they’re hearing it from another voice, to give them a historical view of the plight of Black America.” 

The logo for The League. It has the UDM logo and the following text: Brotherhood, leadership and academic excellence.The League originated from Director of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Kristin Johnston’s office. She wanted to bring a male mentorship program to UDM after having something similar at her previous institution. Before the group's launch, Sanders said that Black male mentorship was occurring on the McNichols Campus, but in different silos. 

When Johnston reached out about the idea of a group, “we felt that it resonated... because we’re already doing the work, just not under the same moniker,” Sanders said. “This gives us a central location for African American male mentorship on campus.” 

The League has brought together employees from across the McNichols Campus, including those from Admissions, ReBUILDetroit, TRIO Student Support Services, Student Success Center, University Recreation and University Advancement. 

Representation was also an important component when forming The League, and it’s something that resonated with alumnus Jeff Brooks ’19, who earned a Nursing degree and came back to the McNichols Campus to take pre-med pre-requisite classes. 

“I think it’s important, because me being pre-med, this past semester, in my comparative anatomy class, I was one of three African American males. In my research group, I was the only African American male, and in my biochemistry class, I was the only African American male,” Brooks said. “So, it felt good to connect with people in a college setting who look like you.” 

The importance of mentorship stood out to Brooks after attending his first League meeting. 

“I’m an older student, but I still need mentors, too, just like the younger students,” he said. “It’s been a good experience connecting with staff and other students.” 

Despite the group still being in its infancy, Smith can already see the impact that it is having on Black male students.  

“They feel a little more inclined to walk in if my door is open, or if they see another member of The League, just more inclined to talk to them because they see them in that setting,” Smith said. “Whereas before, they might’ve seen another staff member, but now they see a mentor, a friend that they can reach out to in times of need and support.” 

Interested in joining The League or attending a meeting? Please email Airik Sanders at or Tommie Smith at for more information and meeting dates.

— By Ricky Lindsay. Follow Detroit Mercy on FacebookLinkedInTwitter and Instagram. Have a story idea? Let us know by submitting your idea.