On a Saturday evening, Feb. 7, six young men, ages 10 to 19, sat patiently through a 90-minute-long ceremony at Good Hope Baptist Church on South Smithfield Road, crossing the stage to receive a certificate to signify their dedication to pursuing manhood.
Clayton pastor Terence Leathers initially started the Engaging Men and Boys Rites of Passage Mentor Program in 2012 with a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women to work with teenagers in sexual violence prevention.
The 9-month program, now funded and run by Leathers’ organization, is aimed at African-American teenage boys from Johnston and Wake counties. It’s graduated about 40 men since it began, and though a key focus is treating women with respect, it is an all-encompassing curriculum that also teaches what it means to be a man, said Leathers.
Now spreading beyond the program in Clayton, a branch of the Rites of Passage is supported by Good Hope Baptist Church in Knightdale.
“There’s a real need for it,” Leathers said. “We look at graduation rates in Johnston County and Wake County when it comes to minorities, the graduation rates are not up to par.”
He listed issues relating to negative behavior, gang-related behavior and criminal activity. Many boys come from single-family households, and don’t have a strong male in their life. They apply or are sought-out for the course by the hosting church.
“We want the boys...to be active bystanders,” Leathers said. “To talk to their brothers when they hear things.”
There’s also an element of boosting self-esteem, he said. One of the goals is to give back to society – cultivating community and valuing education.
Nineteen-year-old Cameron Jarman was one of the men to graduate the Knightdale program, and the conversations about improving society by starting with themselves, stood out to him. He walked away with more information about sexual harassment and domestic violence, he said.
Most of all, he appreciated the bonding time with the men. Although it was difficult for him to warm up at first, he said the highlights of his time included chatting at Buffalo Wild Wings and hanging out at a baseball game with mentors and other mentees.
“I saw it as another opportunity to learn about manhood and brotherhood – and a good thing for my resume,” he said.
The five planks
The format of the program is based on five planks of manhood – how to be well-dressed, well-traveled, well-read, well-spoken and well-balanced.
“A lot of our boys don’t know how to polish shoes or tie a tie,” Leathers said, adding that the program walks them through dressing respectfully, professionally and capably.
“They way you dress speaks volumes for who you are,” said Fred Hinton, Good Hope Baptist Church Rites of Passage program director and minister.
Many of the boys hardly spoke when they entered the program, he said, but by the end they spoke in respectful, full sentences interspersed with “yes sir,” “yes ma’am.”
Along with church support, adult male mentors are essential to the success of the program. Often, there aren’t enough mentors to meet with the boys one-on-one, so they hold group meetings. Later, the men will follow-up several times a month by texting or calling and through social media. Teenagers who graduate often become peer mentors to the next wave of participants.
Mentors also reach out to the boys’ teachers in order to assist with any academic struggles and to give them more confidence, Leathers said.
Hinton said that the program is essential for young men growing into adulthood.
“My father died when I was young, so my mother raised me and my brothers. But for someone to show us to be a man, there was no one around to do that,” Hinton said. “We’re not trying to be their fathers, we’re trying to be a man trying to develop them into manhood.”
Starting in Clayton and now plugging in at a Knightdale church, the program is spreading next to Holly Springs. Leathers said they have made a connection with a church there.
Good Hope Baptist plans to start the program again in April, Hinton said. Those interested in mentoring or being mentored should call Hinton at 919-604-1324 or visit www.thegoodhopeway.net.