Adult ethics, values touted
by naomi martin
Advocate staff writer
May 29, 2012
Many mothers cried tears of joy Sunday afternoon as they watched their teenage sons accept certificates marking their completion of a year-long mentorship program with 100 Black Men of Baton Rouge.
Dressed in navy suit jackets and red ties, the 26 boys beamed as they stood in front of the crowd in the Southern University Agricultural Center.
For the past year, they had to wake up early two Saturdays a month to learn life lessons from mentors, all of whom are established, successful black adult men.
The mentors took the boys on field trips to their places of work to expose them to various opportunities and to talk about their individual roads to success, said Adell Brown, Jr., president of 100 Black Men of Baton Rouge.
“I have been in the program three years and it has made me a better person,” said Dedrik Oliver, a 16-year-old who won an award for being “most improved.”
“I did not want to go at first, but as I got into it, I started liking it,” he told the crowd with a smile.
At each session, the mentors, who are all members of 100 Black Men, addressed “life lessons” such as goal-setting, conflict resolution, family values and work ethic, said Fred Sibley, a mentor and chief administrative officer of 100 Black Men of Baton Rouge.
Upon completion of the program, the boys are awarded a $4,000 scholarship for college.
In a city where law enforcement and other leaders often lament the lack of positive male role models for black children especially, the year-long program is “absolutely life-changing,” said Sibley.
“Most of the kids in here, their moms bring them to us because his dad’s not in his life and he has no positive male figures,” said Sibley. “They need us. They don’t know they need us, but they need us.”
Sibley said the boys, when they first come into the program, usually wear sagging pants and, in general, try to “act like thugs,” because that is what they think is cool.
Over the course of the year, the boys are taught new ways to behave, Sibley said.
“To see a man who’s presenting himself, basically, like we are — you don’t have to necessarily have a suit on, but you know, we dress in the appropriate way, act in the appropriate manner,” he said. “That’s new to them.”
Sibley said conflict resolution is a particularly essential lesson for the boys because they often want to take revenge if somebody hurts them, which can escalate to violence.
“I tell them, ‘The best thing for you to do is walk away,” he said. “You have to see that’s not a sign of weakness. You have to use your brain and think.”
One of the boys, Joshua Augustus, 15, said he had learned a lot about the importance of decision-making from the mentors.
“If someone I know wants to lead me down the wrong path, I know I can ask the mentors ‘What should I do in this situation?’ and they will give me the right thing to do,” Augustus said.
One of the boys addressed told the crowd about lessons he learned from a field trip to Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.
“It only takes three seconds to lose your temper and kill someone,” said Joshua Wilson. “I learned from this to do what I can to keep from going there and set goals for myself and get an education.”
The ceremony’s keynote speaker, Leroy Spurlock, 21, who had gone through the mentorship program in middle school, just graduated from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston with a degree in business administration.
“Decisions last a lifetime,” Spurlock told the boys, noting he had a friend who was sitting in jail awaiting a murder trial. “You need to be careful who you let influence your decisions.”
Spurlock also emphasized the importance of taking education seriously.
“Knowledge and education will open doors for you,” he said. “No one is just going to give you an education. There’s a difference between getting by and learning. Sure, you can study for five minutes right before a test and get a C. But you won’t learn anything that way.”
The organization’s president, Adell Brown, Jr., addressed the crowd and held up a copy of Sunday’s issue of The Advocate, pointing to a page which showed a photograph of a 100 Black Men-sponsored community health walk that took place Saturday.
That photo was surrounded by stories about crime and murder, which had also happened Saturday.
“Look at this,” he said, pointing to the different headlines. “One shot, one arrested, gunshots, crime — but here, in the middle of it all, good things are happening. That’s us.”