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Men commit to teaching boys how to become good people

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by Erin Andersen, Journal Star

WL09061201When Derrick Anderson decided to become a doctor, few believed he could do it. Not because of his grades. But because he is black. Nationally, only 50 percent of African Americans graduate from high school. Of those, half will go to college, but only 40 percent of those will graduate with a degree after six years.

So for Anderson, 40, to become a medical doctor … his professors and LaVista high school guidance counselors were skeptical.

But not his parents.

They raised Derrick and his siblings to chase their dreams and believe that with work, commitment and determination, they could accomplish anything they set their minds to.

Today, Anderson, a general practitioner in Lincoln, is teaching his three young sons those same values.

And he is part of Manhood 101, a new mentoring group dedicated to teaching adolescent boys, particularly boys of color, how to be real men: responsible, productive, dedicated and moral.

“The one thing driving us to participate is to try to make a difference in what is so easily bound to be bad,” Anderson said, noting bleak statistics for boys in America, particularly for African-American boys.

The problem is not race; it is poverty, prejudice and, above all else, the crisis of fatherlessness, says John Leonard Harris, creator of Manhood 101 and founder/president of Encouragement Unlimited and associate pastor of Christ Temple Church in Lincoln.

Harris hears often from mothers who are concerned about their teenage boys. Most are single parents struggling to show their sons that “manhood” does not necessarily reflect the images portrayed in popular culture — especially when it comes to African-American men.

But for many boys — and girls — popular culture provides the only image of what a man is.

Thirty-four percent of American kids — 24 million children — live absent their biological fathers, according to the National Fatherhood Initiative.

Nearly 20 million children (27 percent) live in single-parent homes.

The numbers are worse for African-American children. Only 38 percent live with two married parents, according to a 2008 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. In comparison, 85 percent of Asian children, 78 percent of white children, and 70 percent of Hispanic children live with two married parents.

“The greatest crisis in America is fatherlessness,”  Harris said.

“For all the things were are trying to solve in this world, if we could make a dent in the crisis of fatherlessness, we would solve a lot of the problems of society.”

Statistics bear that out.

The numbers

Children living in female-headed households are five times (42 percent) more likely to live in poverty than children living with a married couple (8 percent), according to a 2008 report from ChildStats.gov.

However, half of all black children living in female-headed households live in poverty, compared with 12 percent of those living with two parents. Among Hispanics, 47 percent of kids living in female-headed homes are impoverished, compared with 19 percent of those living with two parents.

Beyond poverty, there are social, behavioral and emotional issues for children who grow up without dads: higher rates of suicide, dropping out of school, homelessness, running away, drug use, abuse, crime and incarceration.

A U.S. Department of Justice report found that 85 percent of rapists “motivated by displaced anger” were from fatherless homes.

“Single moms do the best they can to raise men,” Harris said. “But there are certain things a woman can’t teach a boy about being a man.”

It is even more difficult for African-American boys to learn how to become men if they do not have positive black male role models, said the Rev. Jessie Myles of No Greater Love Fellowship and a member of Manhood 101.

Anderson agreed. There is something different when someone who looks like you says you can be a doctor or a lawyer, especially if the person talking has accomplished that very goal, he said.

Plight of young men

The first meeting of Manhood 101 on May 9 drew 67 boys, ages 12 to 17.

Many were black.

Many also are part of Angelo Stabler’s “Guidance to Success,” a youth club dedicated to helping young, poor, minority boys break out of the “lockdown cycle” of being surrounded by failure.

Stabler and his friend Ishma Valenti, both 23, started GTS in 2005.

“I grew up in the same environment,” Stabler said, referring to the boys in his group. He grew up in a low-income northeast Lincoln neighborhood. In his early years, his dad was in and out of his life— and in and out of trouble. When Stabler started following in his footsteps, his dad changed.

“He stopped running the streets. He stopped getting in trouble. He started concentrating on his kids,” Stabler said. “He gave me discipline and structure. He said, ‘Hey this is what you need to do.’”

He became a surrogate father for many of Stabler’s fatherless friends.

Basketball got Stabler to college. But he quit the sport to concentrate on his real passion: helping others and making a difference for his people and his community. Last month, he graduated from Nebraska Wesleyan University. His goal is to stay in Lincoln and open a community center where boys will learn the value of education and responsibility, and the fulfillment of becoming a good man.

Real men, real life

Too many boys think real men are the tough guys and gangstas they see on television, Myles said.

“It is a lie from the pit of hell.

“Our responsibility as leaders in the community is to provide an alternative view. That they have a choice,” he said.

Real men care for their families and live up to their responsibilities, said Anthony Kelley of Lincoln. Real men don’t just talk about what they should be, they live it, he said.

A former professional baseball player with the Baltimore Orioles’ and the Houston Astros’ minor-league teams, Kelley planned to make a million dollars and be a star.

But he got hurt and had to quit the game.

He returned to college — twice, this last time for his master’s degree. Today he is a mental health counselor and owner of Total Image Clothing and Total Image Hair and Accessories.

“Goals will change. You have to be prepared for moving on in life,” Kelley explained.

It’s a message he drives home to kids through community work.

“A lot of African-American kids have a perception of ‘I’m just gonna get it,’” he said of fame, fortune and respect. “They need to understand that everyone is not going to make it. You have to be in position so when your number is called you are ready to move into that position so you can seize that opportunity.”

What boys need

Structure, guidance, accountability, high expectations — these are things all kids need.

But today’s boys are in dire need of role models — people other than the celebrities and stars they idolize, Harris said.

With fewer fathers active in their lives, that responsibility must fall on men in the community, Harris said.

Harris, whose father walked out of his life when he was in seventh grade, had a neighbor — Mr. Clare — who showed him what a husband and father should be.

“The challenge for me was not to spend time trying not to be like my father, but to spend my time being like Mr. Clare — faith, integrity, hard work and doing the best for my family every single day.”

Boys need to see adult men living those kinds of lives, Anderson said, men who have achieved with effort and perseverance.

“Because the reality is the chances of becoming a doctor or a lawyer are much greater than becoming a (professional) athlete,” Anderson said.

Another reality: “We have more black men who are not in gangs than are in gangs,” Myles said.

There are too many negative images, he said. “We don’t want negative images to be normal. We want them to be abnormal.”

Even though Myles grew up in the segregated South, he says he had the benefit of black principals, teachers and coaches.

“Every time I walked into that school, I saw a positive black role model. I knew they had gone through things to make it. I knew obstacles could not be used as an excuse. Racism could not be used as an excuse. Every day, I saw people who were overcomers,” he said.

Boys need to hear about those overcomers, Stabler said. That’s why he tells them about great African Americans: Martin Luther King  Jr., Malcolm X, the Freedom Riders.

“They need to learn about people who have died and fought for the opportunities that they have today,” Stabler said. “We need to shed light and tell them how important it is not to take stuff for granted, like the education system,” he said.

“I tell them to look outside their lives, and look at the stuff they can possibly do (some day).”

The challenge

Teaching boys to become men is a community issue, Harris said.

Men, women and the faith community need to step up and help boys — and girls — receive new, honorable and realistic images of what real men should be, he said.

“It’s not about what we want for them, but what they want for themselves,” Harris said.

“They have need to see something different, have to learn something different, and then they can be something different.”

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Written by Symphony

June 23, 2009 at 7:21 am

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