The numbers can look bleak for young black men in America, with a 59 percent national graduation rate and a one-in-four chance of seeing prison in their lifetime.
But local activist Mindy Fuller told the black Wake County male students who attended Saturday’s Choice Not Chance Conference at Southeast Raleigh High School that they would not be any of those statistics. The reason, Fuller told the elementary and middle school students, is the students’ parents and mentors who care about them and won’t leave their lives up to chance.
“You young men are going to graduate,” said Fuller, co-producer of the “Choice Not Chance” documentary that inspired the conference. “You young men will never see the inside of a prison. You young men are going to be everything that you were created to be.”
Fuller and Angela Morrow, her co-producer, became frustrated at seeing how many young black men were not living up to their full potential. Their response was to film a documentary that focuses on conversations with nine young black men from different socioeconomic backgrounds from the Raleigh area about the good and bad choices they made.
The women teamed with the Wake school system to show the documentary Saturday to participants in the district’s Helping Hands program, which mentors male students. About 75 parents, students and mentors came to the Easter weekend conference.
One of the arguments made in the documentary is a call for reforming the criminal justice system, including raising the age that North Carolina teenagers are tried as adults for criminal offenses. North Carolina became the last remaining state to automatically prosecute 16- and 17-year-olds as adults when New York lawmakers agreed last weekend to raise the state’s age of adult criminal responsibility to 18.
But the documentary also urges African-American families to provide children with a sense of security of having two parents who are active in their lives. Attendees talked about the issues that were raised.
“It’s important to me to have both parents,” said Junior Koumaple, 13, an eighth-grade student at Centennial Campus Middle School in Raleigh. “When both of my parents are together and they love each other, it feels like I’m involved in the same relationship as them so that makes me special in the house.”
Find a way to make sure that dad is still connected, mom is still connected with these children because they need you.
Marvin Connelly, school district chief of staff
Marvin Connelly, the school district’s chief of staff who was interviewed in the documentary, related Saturday the issues his sons faced being raised by him in a single-parent household.
“Even though you’re not in the same house, all is not lost,” he said. “Find a way to make sure that dad is still connected, mom is still connected with these children because they need you.”
In addition to watching the film, participants attended breakout sessions on topics such as criminal justice and education.
Andrew Moody, whose parents divorced while he was a teenager, talked with the students about how to handle things when family life is not going their way.
Moody, 27, of Raleigh, was among the young men interviewed in the documentary who came Saturday. Moody said he hoped his presence would make what the students saw feel more meaningful.
“They know I’m real, this is real,” he said. “I have lived this in my life. I’ve gone through similar things.”