Late last month, 12 teen boys completed a nine-month program that taught them how to be men.
“You have the responsibility to go forward and set good examples for other young men in our community,” said the Rev. Rickie Houston, the keynote speaker and a prevention specialist at Domestic Violence Shelter and Services in Wilmington.
The Engaging Men Rites of Passage Sexual Violence Prevention Program trains boys ages 13-17 to be respectful and to actively prevent sexual violence in their communities.
Every month, the 12 teens met with their mentors and the Rev. Terence K. Leathers, pastor of Mt. Vernon Christian Church, one of the program’s sponsors. The young men focused on such topics as dressing well, speaking well and being well-read. Many of the teens do not have other male role models in their lives.
At the ceremony, each young man introduced himself and said what he learned in the program.
“It has taught me what women go through to protect themselves, how they get out their cellphones when they walk to their cars alone at night and have to look around them to be safe,” said Markeese King.
“I learned it’s OK to be yourself and express yourself around people,” added Carrington Vinson.
At one point, the boys, who came to the ceremony wearing slacks and shiny black shoes, received a fresh white polo shirt. They went behind the stage at The Clayton Center and put on the new shirts, a symbol of their new-found maturity as men.
Together they read an oath and committed to preventing sexual violence.
Clayton Councilman Michael Grannis attended the ceremony. “Whatever you have learned in this program, take with you throughout your life and don’t ever forget it,” he said.
Mayor Jody McLeod said he found the ceremony moving. “You all are so full of possibility,” he said. “Everybody is going to know that something is different about you now.”
The graduates will now be mentors for the next class of boys.
Sonya Imhotep’s son, Seven, 14, was among the graduates. She said program had changed her son for the better.
“At first, Seven was very quiet, stayed to himself a lot, stayed in his room a lot,” Imhotep said. “Now he’s more open; he talks more. He’s more polite, opens the door for me and holds the door open for his sisters.”
Imhotep said her son hasn’t had his father in his life for the past two years. The mentoring program is exactly what he needed during that rough transition, she said
“This is the best thing Dr. Leathers could’ve done for Clayton,” Imhotep said.
The 12 young men are the first graduates of the mentoring program, which is now looking for its next class of teen boys and mentors. The next nine-month program will start in October.
“We believe the earlier we start to talk to boys about gender equality, then it will lead to them seeing women as equal and that can lead to ending sexual violence,” said Monika Hostler of the N.C. Coalition Against Sexual Assault, another program sponsor.
Leathers, the Mt. Vernon pastor, wrote the curriculum for the program, which he plans to share with other churches and communities.
While their sons met monthly, the moms formed a group called The Nest. The women offered each other advice on rearing teen boys and prepared food for the monthly meetings.
“I have watched my son grow into more of a mature man in this program,” said Tequila V. Bogan. “He understands more clearly the relevancy and correlation of how dress, demeanor, presentation and appropriate interaction builds a man’s character.”