Brown: Becoming a man to avoid becoming a statistic

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel mostly watched but took one turn as the paper-plane launcher Friday. His plane flew back in a loop and hit him in the face. | Mark Brown / Sun-Times

Follow @MarkBrownCSTThe young man had been asked to rate his summer on a scale of 1 to 10 and then to explain his reasoning in a single sentence.

“I rate my summer a 10 because I lived through the summer,” said Ricky, a 16-year-old student at Morgan Park High School.

That low bar for a successful summer pretty well sums up our sad state of affairs, doesn’t it?

Our kids just want to live. And even at that, we can’t offer them any assurances.

That’s why there’s no arguing with Mayor Rahm Emanuel when he said in his big speech Thursday night that “this fight belongs to all of us.”

But what can we do besides raise our own kids to not be part of the problem, to be good taxpaying citizens and to not begrudge those who need a helping hand?

The mayor thinks one of the things we can do is be supportive of mentoring programs like B.A.M., short for Becoming A Man, which serves as a support group for male Chicago Public Schools students.

That’s why Emanuel led reporters down to Morgan Park on Friday afternoon to participate in a B.A.M. meeting as a followup to his speech.


Follow @MarkBrownCSTEmanuel said he wanted other people to see what he’s seen in these young men: that they haven’t given up on themselves, and we shouldn’t, either.

What I saw, or what I thought I saw, was a very squared away group of teenagers — thoughtful, well-adjusted and high-achieving students and competitive athletes with college aspirations and beyond.

It wasn’t until I talked to them later that I better understood that I might have had a much different impression if I had met them a year earlier, before they entered the B.A.M. program.

“Last year in school, I used to get into fights,” said Ricky, whose full name I’m not allowed to use because B.A.M. is a counseling program. “They opened up my eyes.”

“They,” in this instance, is Michael Anderson, the school counselor known in the group as “Mr. A” who serves as the leader of their weekly discussion group and as the male role model missing in many of their lives.

But Ricky was also referring to his fellow B.A.M. members, who learn to teach other and, maybe more importantly, to learn from each other.

“At first, I was a person who was very judgmental. Now, I accept everybody,” said Imani, a 16-year-old junior linebacker on the football team.

Before Mr. A came into his life, “I didn’t have nobody to look up to,” Imani said.

Anderson asked them to state their short-term and long-term goals. Most spoke of getting good grades and scoring well enough on the SAT to get into college.

The main activity of Friday’s session was an exercise in which the boys split into two teams and made paper airplanes that they were supposed to fly across the room.

The mayor mostly watched but took one turn as the paper-plane launcher. It flew back in a loop and hit him in the face.

Afterward, Anderson asked the students to assess their performance.

The plane maker for the losing team took the blame for being too slow to produce one that would fly.

“That was awesome. You manned up. It’s about owning the things you do, good or bad. You didn’t put the blame on others,” Anderson told him.

It might seem silly, but it’s in such small lessons that B.A.M. communicates the values of self-responsibility and integrity that seem to have been lost on the young people pulling the triggers.

I might have recommended that the losing team just blame the mayor like the rest of us, but, if they are so fortunate, there will be time for that later.

Tweets by @MarkBrownCST

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