New group aims to help black youth
by Jim Gaines, Bowling Green Daily News
Nick Brown, 10, and Denzel White, 11, sat side by side Friday evening watching the Bowling Green Hot Rods play the Asheville (N.C.) Tourists. They were glad to be at the game, amid a crowd of their friends from the Housing Authority of Bowling Green’s Learning Center, but neither was quite sure why they were all out for a free evening of fun.
The answers sat behind and among them in section 117: more than 30 African American men, mostly in red shirts – a new group called Black Men United.
“I guess they just wanted to do something nice for us,” Brown said.
They did, but their interest extends far beyond one night at the ballpark. Black Men United formed about two months ago to give local youth – with a focus on young black males – positive role models, examples of successful black men. The trip to the ballpark is their first outing, but more are planned soon.
Bowling Green businessman and philanthropist David Garvin bought ballpark tickets for the group, housing authority Special Projects Director Carrie Barnette said. About 70 children from the housing authority were scheduled to join Black Men United at the ballpark for an early Father’s Day outing, she said. Roughly two-thirds of households in local public housing are headed by single mothers, leaving plenty of need for positive male role models, Barnette said.
Dr. Richard Miller, associate vice president of academic affairs and chief diversity officer of Western Kentucky University, said he was drawn in by longtime friend Abraham Williams, executive director of the housing authority.
“He expressed an interest in establishing an organization like this because he felt very strongly that the youth of our community needed a group of male role models,” Miller said. Agreeing, he “jumped at the chance” to get involved, he said.
Miller joined several professors and administrators from WKU, along with Bowling Green Police Sgt. Mike Delaney, retired Kentucky State Police Detective James “B.B.” Davis, Omni Custom Meats owner Curtis Sullivan, Scott Waste Services Vice President Lawrence White and other black professionals.
“They’re nice men,” Denzel White said.
The resident of Black Men United is Derek Lawrence, an engineer at the General Motors Bowling Green Assembly Plant. The group is still looking for more volunteers, but thus far he’s been encouraged by the number who have returned to each meeting, he said.
Black Men United seeks to mentor young black men from fourth grade through high school, students at Bowling Green Community College and children in housing authority programs or apartments, Lawrence said.
“Not necessarily the troubled kids, either,” he said.
The idea sprang from two community college professors who sought role models for their students, requests from city and county school superintendents and questions from Bowling Green High School students about the seeming absence of successful black men in the area, Lawrence said.
“Those three things are what brought this group together,” he said.
Though the first event was a social outing, Black Men United plans to teach financial literacy and set up career nights, where its members can present themselves as examples of the very success that students wonder about, Lawrence said. But success is often a matter of perception, he said – essentially, a successful role model only needs to be someone who can support himself and help out someone else.
Before this year’s black male high school graduates leave for college, the group wants to hold a session on what to expect on campus, what classes to aim for and who to meet, Lawrence said. Black Men United also wants to raise enough money to give those students toiletries, linens and basic personal supplies they’ll need for dorm life, he said.
The group is working on a Web site and setting up a bank account, but for now all inquiries should be directed to the housing authority, Lawrence said.
Danny Carothers, volunteer sports coach and TrailBlazer award winner who Lawrence described as the program’s “driving spirit,” said this won’t be the last trip to see the Hot Rods. Soon they’ll be back with about 85 boys from the less affluent west end of town, many of whom he took on a camping trip two weeks ago.
In the next few months they want to show young people that they can succeed in a variety of ways, not just sports, by offering academic tutoring and examples of success, Carothers said.
That may be in store for Lee Sublett, 13. Like many others, he was drawn to the Hot Rods game by a letter sent out by the Learning Center. Sublett too was unsure of Black Men United’s goal, but his opinion of its members was definite.
“Good people,” he said.
— To volunteer for or contribute to Black Men United, or for more information on the program, call the housing authority at 843-6071.