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Barksdale empowers black teens to succeed

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by Andrew Dys, Herald Online

Sandra Richardson is a single mother and a Winthrop University police officer. She is a tough mom. But Richardson said she needed a male figure to help her son, Sirron, grow into the man she not only expects he should be, but demands he will be.She found help two years ago in a guy she has known from when he was a skinny undergraduate at Winthrop, now all grown up and successful, named Derrick Barksdale.

“There are some things that men need to tell our young men,” Richardson said. “Derrick is a mentor. Every young man needs one.”

Barksdale, a vice president at Bank of America in Charlotte, author and motivational speaker who stayed in Rock Hill after college, is more than a mentor for one young black man. Barksdale runs an outfit called The Leadership Group, where he brings together black teenage boys in Rock Hill for the sole reason that he refuses to allow any to fail. There are a dozen young men in the group.

“All I want to do is make sure every one of these young men have every tool to lead successful lives,” Barksdale said. “The future is where we look. Always, we look ahead.”

Barksdale shoots straight. He tells teens flat out that society’s expectations for them might not be as high as for others — but that is unacceptable. It is impossible to get away from the disturbing facts that black men in America are imprisoned more, and educated less, than other groups.

He refuses to accept that result for the next generation. Black men can, must, achieve.

“I was raised in a single-parent home in Laurens, I know what faces these young men,” he said. “I want to help them help themselves.”

At church, Barksdale met a lady whose son was a top student and athlete, but needed a male role model. Patrick Cunningham, now 17, joined the group and has never looked back.

“I know from this group that I can be an honor roll student and anything else I want to be,” Patrick said. “I guess I am a young male trying to become a man.”

Barksdale partners with other groups that target the needs of black men in York County, such as Manhood and Leadership Empowerment, Community Hoops and Bridge Builders. A couple weeks ago, he took a group to Washington, D.C., to tour the Capitol and see Howard University, home to many important black success stories.

But in order to go, the teens had to read Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s “Blueprint for Change,” then write a paper about it. The kids weren’t told to agree or disagree, but just to study Obama’s ideas and understand what his candidacy means to black men.

De’Narius Allen, 15, a sophomore at South Pointe High School who went on that trip, said he saw for himself some of the greatness that this country offers to achievers.

“I want to be a writer, a journalist, so I saw some of what I can do with my life myself,” De’Narius said.

That trip came on the heels of Barksdale taking a group to Morehouse College in Atlanta last year to see where slain civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. studied under the late Dr. Benjamin Mays.

But for Barksdale, getting through to young men who are in high school or starting college isn’t enough. He’s out there among the teens who aren’t in school, who believe society doesn’t care about them so they don’t care about society.

An MBA banker now 33 years old, Barksdale can often be found pushing into the mix of young men whose only taste of business is illegal.

“That’s the challenge,” Barksdale said. “Finding these guys who have been kicked out, or left school themselves, and showing them a better path. They think they are free when they don’t have to go to school, but in fact they are taking away all their options in life. They have no freedom to choose their own futures.”

Barksdale does all this with the consent of parents or guardians. His group is a legal corporation. Yet he charges no fee.

“The only thing I ask from every one of these guys is when they make it, they give back,” Barksdale said. “That’s all I am doing myself. Giving some of what I have back to the next generation.”

On Thursday night, this nation will watch on television the first black man in its 232-year history accept a major party nomination for president. Derrick Barksdale will be watching. He will then, again, tell each group member he expects nothing less great from every one of them.

To learn more about The Leadership Group, call 322-4431 or log on to


Written by Symphony

September 1, 2008 at 6:33 am

Posted in mentoring

Tagged with ,

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