Saunders

Black men needed as role models

Come on, dudes: School's promotion of reading lacks volunteers

Staff WriterFebruary 12, 2010 

Long after the pupils at Hope Elementary Charter School in Raleigh forget what Jacquvalon Brown talked to them about last week, they'll probably remember the chocolate chip cookies he brought them.

Brown, 35, baked them himself. He is the chef at Daniels Restaurant in Apex and was speaking to Zandria Lee's fourth-graders as part of the school's 100 Black Men Read program for Black History Month. The goal, Principal Richard Rubin said, is to give the kids a chance to see black men who are about something.

In a school where 99 percent of the children are black and poor and most grow up in homes with just a mother or grandmother, exposing them to a positive male image is important.

"We have some kids who've hadvery negative experiences" with school, Rubin said. "Some have been thrown out of school [and] ... bounced around" between guardians. He and teacher Monica Huband, who got the idea for the program from a similar one she saw while teaching in Colorado, saidmany of the children grow up in homes where education isn't emphasized. "They're not asked to think; they're told what to do," Rubin said.

"In order to get out of that cycle, reading is important," he said, noting that Black Men Read accomplishes two things at once: "We're promoting reading and giving our kids a chance to see positive males who are black."

Brown is definitely the kind of positive person you'd want your children exposed to, holding the dozen or so pupils' attention as he talked about black inventors such as Garrett A. Morgan, inventor of the traffic signal. (You can supply your own curses here.)

"I wanted to help in any way I could," Brown said, after learning the school needed volunteers. "Maybe when they think of chocolate chip cookies, they'll think of Garrett Morgan."

OK, Barry will preach

Brown was too nice to criticize other black men who don't volunteer for such programs - "I feel I have a responsibility, but it's not my place to preach to someone about what they should do"- but I'm certainly not too nice.

Here goes: Say, homes. What's wrong with y'all? This school - these children - need your help. So do scores of others in the Triangle, and if you're not helping, you're hurting. If you can read, you need to slide over to Hope or some other school and read, interact as Brown did, or simply be. Schools throughout the area should be so inundated with black men trying to get in to help the next generation that administrators will have to say, "No more! We have enough!"

Ladies, you have a role in this, too. Ask your man if he's doing something to help a child who's not his own. If not, why not? Also, if not, why the heck are you with such a chump?

Last February, the first year of Hope's program, 100men participated. This year, Rubin said, about 60 have signed up.

Making kids dream

"It's very, very difficult for us to get quality volunteers for anything," Huband said. "We're looking for a fluent, positive role model who can and likes to read." The ideal candidates, she said, are "people who can make them think about their dreams."

Despite the shortage of volunteers, the school has made progress. "We are a school that has come a long way in a year and half," Rubin said. "We picked up 26 points on our end-of-grade scores last year."

This year, Rubin wants to boost those scores even more and pick up more black men to come and read to his kids. "Just because we're calling it '100 Black Men' doesn't mean we have to stop at 100" or with the month of February, he said.

These aren't "bad kids," Huband said. "They're needy kids." They need somebody to pay them some attention, to help them dream, to - yup, you guessed it - read to them.

Come on, dudes. Do your duty. I'll see you there. You can reach Rubin and volunteer at 919-834-0941.

barry.saunders@newsobserver.com or 919-836-2811

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