“Statistics say that only one out of four of you will make it to manhood! Statistically one out of every four of you will be in jail, one will be addicted to drugs or otherwise incapacitated, and one will be dead before you reach the age of twenty-five. Only a few out of this group you will make it! Who’s it gonna be? Who wants to have a fulfilling life? Who wants to make it to manhood?”
This is a talk I give in one form or another to all the boys I work with. The statistics I refer to are those for black boys growing up in the inner city. All of the boys raised their hands after my address. No one plans to grow up and go to jail, or be on drugs, or be dead… but without positive intervention that’s how many black youth end up. Generally the statistics bore themselves out. Of this cohort, some are incarcerated, some have been killed or injured through gang violence, some haven’t been able to escape the life of the streets yet, but a few are doing well.
Kyle was in this group. A wonderful and challenging group of boys; but the odds were stacked against them. Most of them went to camp with me, played basketball, and participated in our mentoring program, but they all struggled growing up. It is no easy task to avoid the pitfalls facing young black men here. They all struggled to stay focused and avoid distractions to learning in school. They struggled with family dysfunction, being poor, crime, gangs and rampant violence. Kyle struggled with these things just like all the other boys. But somehow he made it.
Instead of joining a gang or running the streets he found positive pursuits to be involved in. He often had help, but mostly he took the initiative to stay positively engaged. The opportunities were there, but like every other young person here, you have to go looking for it, and find something that fits you. For some it’s sports, for some it’s work; for Kyle it was church, choir, and the drama club at school. He worked hard at school, surrounded himself with positive people, and prepared for college. At this point some of the other boys in this group had already given up on life and had dropped out of school, running the streets, getting high and engaging in other self destructive behavior. But not Kyle. He found a group of friends who were into what he was into, being positive and staying in school. He stayed involved in church and helped me many times as a counselor at camp.
He graduated from high school and set his sights on college. He got accepted but had a difficult first year. Kyle was not immune to the effects of financial and emotional stress all his life. But he refused to quit. He regrouped and went back to college, and four years later he graduated with an education degree. This past fall he got a job as a teacher in an elementary school just blocks away from the house he grew up in, and fulfills a crucial role as a black man in this community. Lisa and I are so very proud of him. Not only has he succeeded in growing up, but he has left a blueprint for others to follow. He is a role model… he is a success story… he is a man.