The statistics are alarming. One out of every three young Black males in America today is in prison, in jail, on probation, or on parole. Eighty percent of those dropping out of high school today are boys of color. In California the graduation rate for young Black males is below 40 percent. The U.S. Education Department tells us these boys represent 80 percent of those nationwide who misbehave in the class. Sixty-nine percent of Black male dropouts are boys in fatherless homes.
Veteran LAPD officer Stinson Brown, Sr. knows something about the heart-breaking demise of America's young Black males. In July 2009 his only son, 21-year-old Stinson Ameer Brown, a solid Christian, good student, accomplished athlete and dedicated community servant was gunned down at a party in Baldwin Hills. Thus, his inspiration to create Brother II Brother, an organization dedicated to "eradicating generational curses and strongholds that prevent 'at risk' children from achieving their full potential."
Stinson, along with a host of community leaders and more than 70 mentors from Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. teamed up with Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., to corral 200 Black boys ages 11 to 19-years-old for a full day of mentoring on the campus of UC Riverside.
Our mentors come from a myriad of socio-economic and professional backgrounds said Stinson. "We are physicians, attorneys, police officers, journalists, civil servants, construction workers, teachers, truck drivers, engineers, military veterans, sales professionals, and entrepreneurs. All are leaders. We all share the common desire to make this world – our communities, our neighborhoods – a better place for our children."
It was a powerful moment when Stinson and the elite professionals stood in a receiving line. Mentors placed a reassuring hand on each boy's shoulder committing to motivate, encourage, and give the support needed for a bigger and brighter future.
Young Danny Bennett's eyes lit up, like Christmas lights, full of hope, he nodded, eagerly.
"Many of these kids come from fatherless homes. Many have never been on a college campus. Most of them have never seen as many well-dressed accomplished men in one room," said Kenneth Simons, director of African Students Programs at UCR.
"You can see their faces light up. You can see the curiosity. Sadly behind some of those smiles," said co-chair Terry Boykins, "there is deep pain, loneliness, and anger. It's very powerful to witness this."
Fatherhood; incarceration; health and mental wellness; 'How to Treat a Lady"; "How to be Strong without Being Violent"; money management; effective speaking and faith-based involvement were repeated themes voiced by the panelists during a series of group workshops and break-out sessions.
Boykins admitted "the church must be more transparent" to meet the needs of youth today. He challenged 'Day of Mentoring' participants to "begin within your own community and work outward to enrich all."
"Think of us as surgeons in an operating room," said project director Kevin Hall. "The goal is to eradicate the disease that prevents our children from achieving. With the help of love, leadership and guidance, we get to know family history. We identify the wounds. We listen to aspirations, dreams and frustrations. We earn trust. We empower. Little by little we see the disease replaced by healthy physical and mental wellness."
Rialto High School teacher and U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Commander Sandy Jones said as in the case of one young participant, mentors are rarely surprised to see the deep pockets of distress cloaked in disguise.
"I had to pull this kid out of one of the sessions today because he was being disruptive," recalled Jones. "He was not receptive to any guidance I tried to give him.
His response disguised in humor and aggression, unmasked woundedness, disappointment, a sense of despair and hopelessness."
"He's had so much anger and hurt in his life – authority is meaningless to him because he's been let down so many times. When I hugged him and said – what's hurting you son, he dropped his eyes and said, 'How did you know that.' I said it helps to have 43 years of life in front of you. His eyes lit up. That's the power of what we do here," said Jones.
"I learned not to let obstacles get in your way," said Tyler Thomas, 14 of Culver City. "Also, we learned that we should not use any excuse to hold us from our dream."
"I wish I had a father. I would get him to help me with my homework and go to soccer games," said Jesse from Victorville.
Kishaun, from Pomona, said the workshops were helpful. "They let us talk about stuff you can't talk to your mother or sister about."
Malik Beamon says he learned what to do when he sees bullying at his Perris middle school. "I learned that it's important to take bullying seriously and not just brush it off as something that kids have to "tough out."
Jacoby O'Neal said he was surprised that almost all of the mentors had gone through the same struggles he and other the mentees are going through now when they were young men.
"With all of the problems they had during their childhood, they did not let any of those issues hold them back from reaching their goals," said O'Neal. "I learned - always have a positive male role model in your life that will always lead you the right way," said Darryl Turner, 13.
In support of the sorority's EMBODI (Empowering Males to Build Opportunities for Developing Independence), the Mu Chi Chapter is presenting young men grades 6-12 with a scholarship opportunity.
"We are excited to let young scholars express themselves through an oratorical contest. In today's society, many young men do not have ways to have their emotions and opinions be heard. Since writing is an essential part of college, we want to present young men with an opportunity in using writing as an outlet." For information visit www.muchideltas.org/embodi.php.
For Stinson Brown Brother II Brother can't fill the gaping hole left by his son's murder. Still he says the organization is a powerful tool for turning tragedy into hope and change.
PHOTO: Danny Bennett (left) and Jeremy Johnson were the among the 200 boys and teens at the Brother II Brother event held May 7, 2011 at UCR.