Challenging youth to succeed

Local leaders urge responsibility among young black men.
Sunday, November 14, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:46 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Columbia’s community leaders and advocates of the black community met Saturday to discuss ways to help change the way black males are viewed and how they view the world.

A forum titled “The Black Male — Our Investment in the Future” featured local author Eliot Battle and panelists who discussed problems facing black males and ways to address the problems.

About 40 people were present at West Junior High School on Saturday, most involved with local organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club and The Intersection.

Battle, the author of “A Letter to Young Black Men — You Won’t Find Role Models on Street Corners” read excerpts from his book and discussed issues including conformity and peer pressure among black males as well as the need for them to be respectful to black females.

“Each person must practice positive behavior,” he said.

He also talked about the importance of communities, including families, extended relatives, friends, groups and churches, serving as role models.

“We black families need to bring back values,” Battle said.

In his book and speech, he concluded by urging black males to be successful and responsible.

“I have no doubt that all of you can make a positive contribution,” he said. “I challenge you to do so.”

Although the topic of discussion was youth, there were only a few young people present. Demetria Stephens, who attended the event, said she would like to bring young people aboard and invite them to participate in forums. Stephens works for Big Brothers, Big Sisters and said she would like to see more input and suggestions from young people in Columbia.

After Battle spoke, six panelists spoke briefly about their backgrounds and experiences with young blacks in Columbia and made suggestions for improvement. Capt. Marvin McCrary, who as west district commander for the Columbia Police Department is responsible for the First Ward, said he has tried many things to help black males, including decreasing drug use and sales. Some have been successful, but others haven’t, he said.

“I don’t know what else to do,” McCrary said.

On the panel with McCrary were the Rev. James Kimbro, clinical coordinator of the Phoenix Program; Chauncey Spears, with the Jefferson Junior High School Men of Tomorrow program; Jeffrey Williams, president of the Minority Men’s Network; Nia Imani with Fun City Academy; and the Rev. David Ballenger, member of the Columbia Board of Education.

After the panelists spoke, representatives from local outreach organizations spoke about their suggestions for reaching out to young black males. Beulah Ralph, the director of Home School Communicators Program, has been with Douglass High School for 57 years. She talked about the need for leaders not to accept poor behavior by black males.

“They get by with what we let them get by with,” Ralph said. “We let them get by with too much.”

Everyone at the forum seemed to agree that groups in Columbia should work together and pool resources. They also agreed they should continue doing what they can to help instead of just talking about making changes.

Nathan Stephens, an ambassador from the First Ward who attended the forum, said he has seen some young men at the point of desperation.

“A change has to come about,” he said.

He said that while he was growing up, the men on the streets were role models because they were around and got to know kids in the community. He said for groups to be successful in reaching young black males, they need to get out into that community.

The Columbia chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., a national public service organization, organized the event. Brenda Washington was the chairwoman and said she hoped the forum would be “informative, enlightening and encouraging.”

Zella Spicer, also a member of Delta Sigma Theta, encouraged the leaders and concerned residents to work together to support young black males.

“Not only are we here to provide support and positive enforcement for young black men and young black women but also for each other,” Spicer said. “We have to work together, and that is what this is about.”

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