“How do we destroy negative stereotypes?” The class of young black men sat attentively and some started saying the word leader Jerry Bull was looking for: “success.”
“That’s right,” said the pharmaceutical rep who was just one of many successful black men who had been recruited to lead sessions at the Making of Men Conference Friday.
The conference was organized by Believe, Inc., an organization that works to improve lives of young men in Oklahoma City.
“You destroy stereotypes by being successful and coming back. You don’t just leave and become a success and then stay away. You come back,” said Bull.
The high-school-age young black men, well dressed and groomed, were attentive and earnest in their answers and participation.
Bull gave them something to think about before they left for another session.
“Some of you may become millionaires some day. And if you do, will you come back and contribute to the community? We need you to.”
“As you get grown, reach back and pull someone else up,” Bull reminded the young men.
Earlier in the session Bull asked his group what the definition of character is.
“It’s doing the same right thing in private that you do in public,” said one of the participants.
“And sometimes it’s just remembering what not to do, right?” asked Bull. Heads nodded.
The group uniformly looked tight in their long ties and bow ties. Their appearance might have deceived the casual visitor until Bull asked one question which revealed how hard their lives might be.
“How many here have known somebody who didn’t come back. I mean you know someone who left their house one day and didn’t come back for any reason.”
The responses were slow, but then hands started creeping up.
Eventually, at least three-quarters of the roughly 25 young men in the room raised their hand.
It was indicative of the destructive world so many youths find themselves in.
Free Press talked with LaShawn Webb, one of the young men participating in the conference and asked what were stand-out learnings he had so far.
- Watch who you hang around with.
- Be mindful of your surroundings.
- Keep your vision in mind.
Webb is a student at Douglass High School and plans to go to college to major in engineering. He wants to become an entrepreneur.
“Vision” was a word we heard often as we moved around the conference.
Steve Davis started Believe, Inc. in 1999 with other leaders on the east side of Oklahoma City.
Metro Technology Centers, locally known as Metro Tech, helped sponsor the event by donating the use of their building at 1900 Springlake Drive.
Oklahoma City Public Schools has embraced the 19-year-old program allowing for staff to volunteer and for Davis to hold sessions in schools around the district.
We asked Davis what the goals of the conference were.
“Hope,” was his one-word answer. Then he elaborated.
This is about how do we give hope to some young people who are living in some conditions sometimes that can make them doubt their future. And when you doubt your future, and you have no hope, you have a self-destructive behavior. And when you have a self-destructive behavior, you’ll destroy your community, your economy, and everything that what we believed to be about America.
Davis said their efforts have been to renew, rekindle and reconnect the community.
He said the first steps in healing an ailing economy on the east side is to “build an economy by building young men.”
To learn more, see coverage of another Believe, Inc. event Free Press covered in 2017: