Rallying To Help Young Black Men

fromWFAE

Three of the largest black Methodist churches have banded together. They're hoping to help young black males from getting into trouble. It's part of an effort to keep African-American youths from becoming statistics for the wrong reasons.

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Three of the largest black Methodist denominations have banded together for the first time since the civil rights movement. Their goal is to help young black men stay out of trouble. Organizers believe churches need to play a larger role in keeping African-American youth from becoming negative statistics.

Greg Collard of member station WFAE reports.

GREG COLLARD: Welcome to the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Charlotte. It's what city leaders call challenged: scores high in the bad categories, like crime, and low in good categories, such as home ownership. Canchez Lindsay is like many young African-Americans here. He grew up without a father but he says that's okay.

Mr. CANCHEZ LINDSAY: I graduated without him. I got a job without him. I get my money without him - the good way. Some people who ain't got no father, they just a loose canon.

COLLARD: Lindsay is hanging out on a corner with a few friends. They're not doing anything really, just talking to people as they enter and leave a diner. Seventeen-year-old Reggie Davidson says most kids in this neighborhood don't have it easy.

Mr. REGGIE DAVIDSON: They ain't got no father figure. They ain't got no father figure, you know? I mean, because nine times out of 10, everybody out here ain't got no father figure.

COLLARD: It's not just a Charlotte problem. U.S. Census figures show almost two-thirds of African-American kids don't have a biological father living at home, and that can lead to other issues. A Justice Department report found the incarceration rate for black men in 2008 was six-and-a-half times that of white men.

Mr. WARREN BROWN (Bishop): We're not just going to visit you in prison, we're going to try to keep you out of prison.

COLLARD: That's Bishop Warren Brown speaking this month in Columbia, South Carolina, at what was billed The Great Gathering. Almost 7,000 people attended a meeting of the major black Methodist denominations: the AME, AME Zion and CME.

Mr. BROWN: We recognize that oftentimes we feel that we will deal with our young black men in the eighth or tenth grade. That's too late. We've got to work with them out of kindergarten.

COLLARD: Bishop Brown offers a basic proposal: a series of six-week workshops at black Methodist churches. They would help students do better in school and talk about their career and education options. A mentor would be assigned to each participant for at least a year.

Back in Charlotte something similar already takes place.

Unidentified Woman: Okay, mentors, who would like to tackle that?

COLLARD: For several years, a group called 100 Black Men of Charlotte has held Saturday academies. About 25 students meet for a few hours every two weeks throughout the school year. It's not open to anyone - there is an application process - but most come from single-parent homes. And Donnie Koonce, the group's president, says they all face tremendous peer pressure.

Mr. DONNIE KOONCE (President, 100 Black Men of Charlotte): We try to impress upon them that that's okay. You need to be the master of your own faith and the captain of your own ship. If this is what you want to do you need to do it. And, oh, by the way, you have a support group here.

Unidentified Woman: Now, let's move onto summary. Young man? Yes, sir.

COLLARD: Dedicated students are rewarded. Those who graduate from high school with a 2.5 GPA receive a $7,500 scholarship. A 3.0 GPA is worth $10,000. The group boasts almost all its graduates qualify for scholarships. Still, few, if any, of these Saturday academy students wanted to be here at first. The mother of Dondre Williams(ph) signed him up four years ago.

Mr. DONDRE WILLIAMS: And I'm like, ah man, I got to go on Saturday?

COLLARD: But Dondre says he needed to be here.

Mr. WILLIAMS: I can honestly say that I participate in things I'm not proud of, but this program has showed me that, like, you don't have to do that just to be cool. You know, you can excel in what you do and eventually that'll make you cool, doing what you do instead of doing what everybody else is doing.

COLLARD: Dondre knows that others have made his well-being a priority, and he's thankful that investment of time has changed his outlook on the future.

For NPR News, I'm Greg Collard in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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