B Y   D . A .   B U L L O C K   &   T H E  P O L L E N  S T O R Y  T E A M

Gayle is the executive director of New Lens Urban Mentoring Society. His mission is simple and urgent. His small staff seeks to make sure urban African American males have access to resources and experiences other Minnesotans take for granted.


But Gayle’s individual story means nothing if it isn’t in service of the team. 


He believes this so fiercely, he requested to keep his image out of this story.  



Gayle is Terrance. Gayle is Rashaad. Gayle is Mykeal. Gayle is every one of these 178 young black boys coming together and becoming better, generating energy and passion for one another. That’s not just talk. That’s how it works.  


Terrance is here because it feeds him. Rashaad is here because it feeds him. Gayle is voracious in his appetite. He holds up a true mirror for these boys.


“We do non-cognitive skill-building: self-confidence, discipline, code-switching, strategic thinking, and navigating systems.”  


These buzzwords are the building blocks for a successful lifetime. Life’s fulfillment will not come down to an algebra score—it will amount to how you build relationships, how you dream, how you navigate.


When 178 young men imagine and innovate and design a future—when they look through a new lens—that’s when Gayle is at his best.  


So, what is New Lens? 






An important moment in the formation of New Lens came when Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) hired Smaller Concepts, Gayle’s consulting firm. He was tasked with designing a solution to Minnesota’s looming, terrifying achievement gap. He created a complex, multi-generational mentorship program. But who would run it? 


The intention was to get it up and running, groom an executive director, and then Gayle would return to consulting. But Gayle’s intentions soon shifted.




They are not doing anything brand new…it’s old and perfect. And it has worked for a very long time.


What is revolutionary?

What is innovative?


This team. These mentors. Gayle. He honestly respects and values these young men for who they are. He sees them in full. They have never been so visible. He doesn’t need to craft their credentials in a narrative to bestow some artifice of respect. They have already earned Gayle’s respect and admiration.




Shay Glorius L. Martin is the Program Director at New Lens.



The young men are paired with mentors like Glo who have the energy to organize activities like archery, boxing, fencing, swimming, dinners, and movie nights.


Gayle on mentorship: 


“It is incredibly important for young men that grew up in communities that are extremely racialized to be able to see someone approaching the world from a humanitarian perspective and model that themselves.”


The mentees also have access to black role models tied to educational experiences. Gayle sends groups of kids to do residencies on campuses like the University of Minnesota, Paul Quinn College in Dallas, and the University of South Africa. Not only does this particular program combat summer learning loss, more and more children have a college experience in their formative years, making it more likely for them to strive to attend college when it’s time.


Gayle applied to the University of Minnesota multiple times before he was accepted.


Gayle values education.  

When Gayle was a young man he always wanted to be a teacher. While applying to the University of Minnesota, he didn’t let his lack of a degree stop him from going after his dream. Just a few years out of high school, Gayle was instrumental in creating the charter school, Cedar Hill Academy. He helped hire a board of directors. He helped hire teachers. He was essentially operating as the school principal. But he hid in the background because he didn’t have the credentials.  


“Everyone in the building knew that I ran the place. But the district thought I was just someone that worked there. I was able to get around not having the education. What forced me into the University was thinking about how I could have a broader impact on the world.”


Gayle kept thinking of his students while he was applying to the University of Minnesota over and over again. He wanted them to find easier access to the credentials he craved.



At Cedar Hill, Gayle was able to innovate in the education sphere because he threw away the framework of what a school was supposed to be. He formed the school he himself would have thrived in. As a young man just coming out of high school, he was able to make subtle shifts in the way the school ran to be more attractive to young men.


Little innovations soon became big innovations after Gayle eventually secured enrollment in the University of Minnesota, graduated and hit the ground running as an expert in alternative learning environments.


Passion sparks the positive.


Gayle would like every New Lens kid to develop a new passion for something. Take archery for example. New Lens is not out to develop the new pipeline of professional archers. But having passion for archery, or martial arts, or swimming, or tennis could change the life of a New Lens kid. Gayle wants to expose these kids to activities that challenge them and bring them joy, and he seeks out options the boys would rarely have access to otherwise. Like so much of New Lens, this idea is based on Gayle’s personal experience. 





New Lens has found an important partnership with Outward Bound. Every year, incoming seventh-graders are required to do a five-day canoe trip on the St. Croix. The ninth-graders do a hiking trip through the Superior Hiking Trail in Duluth.


Being up north at night, staring at the stars. It looks like you can reach out and touch them. No sounds around. Just being you. It really did something for my spirit.


We are in Minnesota, man. There is no sense in you staying on the east side and hanging out on the corner.



You just need the skills. If we can give them the skills—how to portage in the Boundary Waters, and how to be in the woods for five days and hang your food up so the bears can’t get it—those experiences are something they can take with them forever.


Hopefully it will have the same impact on them as it did on me. That is one of the things that changed my life. It pulled me out of the game. Out of the negative.


Related Opportunities

What Do You Really Believe about Young Black Men?
Michael Walker, Director of the Office of Black Male Student Achievement, wants to know.
VIA Holly Harrison
A Young Mentee’s Perspective on New Lens Urban Mentoring
Maleek Davis shares how New Lens has taught him to dream bigger.
VIA Maleek Davis

Enjoyed this story? Help us keep the hive alive and become a founding supporter of Pollen today. Your financial support allows us to invest in the local leaders, writers, and artists who bring these stories to life.


D.A. Bullock
D.A. Bullock has been an award-winning cinematographer, writer and director for over 15 years. In 2011, he founded Bully Creative Shop in Minneapolis. D.A. was also named a 2014 McKnight Foundation / IFP Minnesota Media Arts Fellow.