They’ve answered mayor’s call to mentor, hope more men step up

SHARE They’ve answered mayor’s call to mentor, hope more men step up
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Mack McGhee, dean of students at Urban Prep Academies West Campus, and Stanley Muhammad, Urban Prep’s athletic director, started a fund-raising website for their boot camp. | Screenshot

Ten young black men showed up at the auditorium of Leo High School that first week, after the invitation went out on social media.

With a weekly posting of photos and youth telling their friends, the number making their way to 79th & Sangamon each Saturday morning for the Manhood Development Camp grew to more than 30.

“It was just a couple of good friends of mine. We’re always talking about what’s going on with young black men in our community, the drugs, gangs and violence. We decided to get off the sidelines and do something to help the situation,” said Mack McGhee, originator of the spontaneous, eight-week boot camp that ended Saturday.

As Chicago braces for another long, hot summer of potentially escalated violence claiming more lives in the inner city, some in the black community are welcoming Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s call forhelp in “preventing another lost generation of our city’s youth.”

“When prison is the place we send young boys to become men, we as a city must and can do better,” Emanuel said in an inaugural address last week that focused on youth rather than on city finances.

“Too many of them become victims of their circumstances. But what we know is that their circumstances do not have to define them. The question for all of us is how to provide these young men with a sense of godliness, a sense of purpose, and a sense of their potential,” he said. “It is time we stop talking past each other and join together for solutions. I challenge every citizen. … You must do your part too.”

Emanuel encouraged folks to step up through mentoring, pointing to established programs like Becoming a Man, or BAM. Local and national studies show benefits to mentored youth includebetter relationships; improved school performance and decision-making; greater confidence and optimism; and reduced risk factors for violence.

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Mack McGhee. | Sun-Times

“The mayor’s focus on Chicago’s youth in his inauguration speech confirmed he sees the need in the black community,” said McGhee, 44. “Many of us are starting to not only see the need, but rise to it.”

McGhee is dean of students at Urban Prep Academies West Campus. Stanley Muhammad, 57, is Urban Prep’s athletic director. McGhee had been lamenting to Muhammad the need to reach young black men beyond their college-bound students. He shared their boot camp idea with his barber, Lamont Brown, 41. Brown, a recently elected alderman in south suburban Harvey, bought in. They put the call out for other interested men. William Gray, 46, dean of students at Leo, also bought in. Gray’s principal offered them space at Leo.

They launched a GoFundMe page— http://www.gofundme.com/manhoodcamp — and chipped in money from their own pockets, devising an eight-week program aimed at helping young men make better choices by covering anger management, conflict resolution, character building and critical thinking.

It kicked off April 4 with the three-hour sessions involving shared meals and rap sessions, myriad speakers — from clinical psychologists to corporate executives and etiquette experts — and a community service project. Any young man age 9 to 20 was welcome. The majority came from homes headed by single mothers.

“I went because I just wanted to become a better person, and like, more mature,” said Derrick Daniels, 15, of Bronzeville. “I liked the interactions with the speakers, and being able to ask questions. I learned to not make excuses, to just own up to whatever you do.”

Christian Norfleet, 17, of Chatham, said: “I went because young black males are taking a hit right now, and I felt the need to assess my future. I enjoyed the food for thought they gave us each week. One important thing I learned was, ‘Let go and let God.’ I didn’t really expect to hear that from a group of brothers, you know?”

A study last year by the Illinois Mentoring Partnership and University of Illinois at Chicago found a statewide shortage of male volunteers for mentoring programs serving at-risk youth.

National efforts include President Barack Obama’s 2014 “My Brother’s Keeper” mentoring initiative, bringing together foundations, corporations and community groups to seek best practices in addressing the problems derailing young men of color. Obama earlier this month announced he plans to continue its work after his presidency under the My Brother’s Keeper Alliance.

“We figured we can just sit around shaking our heads about all the negativity and all the violence we’re seeing around our young black men, or we can do something about it,” said Gray. “We felt we had to do something, even if we had to put our money together. It was eye-opening to learn how unprotected the youth themselves feel. It was great to see them open up and to feel we’re making a difference.”

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