gua: Messages from Men of Honor

Group hosts kick-off celebration, registers male boys and teens

Michaela Bean, 15, decorates a T-shirt for Shedrick Burley, 9, at the kick-off event for Men of Honor United held last Saturday at the King Center.

ANDREW STANFILL/Special to the Guardian
Published: Thursday, April 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 31, 2010 at 4:32 p.m.

Brief speeches by two men who know what it's like to beat the odds of growing up in rough neighborhoods were the highlight of a kick-off celebration to introduce a new community organization created to help boys and teen males transition into manhood.

Men of Honor United held the event last Saturday at the King Center, and 15 boys and teen males registered to join the group.

Chief Tony Jones of the Gainesville Police Department and Eric "DJ E-Lo" Lopez of New Ministry Productions spoke to the close to 100 people in attendance, which included mostly young black males, along with parents, concerned residents and young ladies.

"There is a state of emergency when it comes to black males," Jones said early in his 10-minute speech, frequently citing statistics that show how much black males are overrepresented in the juvenile justice system in Alachua County. As Jones continued to cite statistics and talk about the perils of the judicial system, a woman was heard saying, "You hear that boy!"

Jones told the leaders of Men of Honor that he is glad they are doing something to help young black males away from the judicial system, and he pledged to support the group in any way he can.

"I will be around for you," Jones said.

Lopez asked the young men to stop playing basketball and to come sit down while he spoke to them. He told them how he grew up around all females in a home headed by his single mother. He said he decided to hang out with boys in his neighborhood and began doing bad things when he became a teenager. He said he stopped hanging around those boys when the bad things they were doing began to involve guns and robbing people.

"I know it is hard out there, but you have to learn to make the right decisions," Lopez said. He also told the young males that they can make a good decision "right now" by joining Men of Honor.

"This organization is phenomenal," Lopez said. "This organization is here to help you right now. It is here to help you reach goals you may have thought you couldn't reach."

Lopez also talked about the importance of doing good in school and being a good person in general. He left the young men with a word of advice.

"If you know somebody who is always going to jail, you need to study that person and see what they are doing and do just the opposite of what you see them doing," Lopez said.

Fifteen-year-old Dominique Owens said he understood everything Lopez said.

"Everything he said is true," said Dominique, a freshman at Buchholz High School. "It is very important to make good decisions. If you make bad decisions, it will lead to you living a bad life."

Free food was served at the event, and young people played basketball and enjoyed the fun of a bounce house inside of the King Center.

There also was entertainment, which was provided by teens.

Nytrell Greenlee, 19, performed a mime dance to the song "It Ain't Over" by Maurette Brown Clark, and there also was a performance by G-Squad, an east Gainesville teen rap group.

Men of Honor will emphasize the importance of academic and vocational skills, financial literacy, self awareness and other life skills through a series of workshops beginning Monday.

Jasmine Gordon, the founder and president of the group, said she was happy with the turnout last Saturday.

"The feedback I am getting from people here today is that this is something that is sorely needed in Gainesville," Gordon said. "Some parents have told me they wish this would have been around to help some of their older boys."

Roselda Williams, 30, said she brought her 11-year-old son, De'Angelo Bailey, to the event to see what Men of Honor was all about.

"They need something like this in the community," Williams said. "Our boys need to be taught more about the importance of respect, and something like this will teach our boys how to be respectable young men."

Kendra Dixon also was on hand with her 11-year-old son, Marquis Gross, and she echoed the sentiments held by Williams.

"Anything that involves empowering our young males, I am for it," Dixon said. "We need more men to stand up and mentor our boys because a lot of dads can't or just don't."

To register and for more information, call 352-327-5003, 352-260-8561 or 352-275-7379.

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