Above: The boys of the 2014 5000 Role Models clue at WJ Bryan Elementary take the pledge not to do drugs, carry firearms or wear their pants below the waist.
Our boys are in trouble these days, especially so if they come from poor homes, especially if their skin is dark, even a little. Too many are growing up without fathers, without guidance. Too many are falling into the wrong crowds, in the wrong place, with the wrong attitude. Recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, among others, have illustrated the issue.
The challenge is the mistakes of some are affecting the attitude towards all. Many in the police and general public have become negatively preconditioned towards young males, especially those of color. This negative impression is putting all male youth in danger but the reality is that there are a significant number of crimes committed by black youths in particular. Here is one study by the FBI.
In the year 2008, black youths, who make up 16% of the youth population, accounted for 52% of juvenile violent crime arrests, including 58% for homicide and 67% for robbery. [Source]
So it is a vicious cycle. Many of these boys go the wrong way and as a result they create a negative attitude towards all boys.
Miami is so multicultural and as a result of it’s diversity, it has had to learn how to deal with racial and cultural prejudices to keep its communities from tearing each other apart. They are the same issues affecting Missouri today. The police in Miami are far from perfect but they don’t make the mistakes they do in Missouri. The police force is as multicultural as the communities they protect. Of course there are issues, we have more than our share of corruption too, plenty. But the difference I have seen is that race, gender or sexual bias have not played much of a role in the corruption. In other words, there are people who are corrupt, as in anywhere, but there is no particular bias.
In addition to diversity in the police force, Miami has taken steps to stop the cycle of violence before it begins.
Not willing to allow the lives of this vulnerable population of children to continue to be destroyed without direct intervention, Wilson began to challenge the men of Miami-Dade County to intervene in the lives of “at-risk” youth.
This club, called 5000 Role Models of Excellence is a program started in Miami in the mid-90’s and which has been recognized by President Obama, among others, for its success. This program bridges community members, such as police officers, to mentor youth, the same youth that are getting shot in the streets in other communities. This mentoring teaches both the mentor and the youth. The results are education and tolerance.
The mission of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project is to give minority boys hope as well as the vision of greatness to emulate in their everyday lives and has formed a fraternal aura of brotherly love throughout Miami-Dade County.
My son was invited to join and I’m always on the lookout for programs that encourage good character. Boys who have issues with their father, as my son does with his birth father, need positive male guidance in particular. Recently I went to an induction ceremony for the 5000 Role Models of Excellence and I saw about 50 young men, my son included, all wearing in black pleated pants and a white dress shirt, all answering in unison respectfully, all being honored by mentors of the community. Tears welled in my eyes, not because of my son, who in many ways has plenty of opportunity, but for all the other boys, most of whom were African-American, I know this is a chance for them, perhaps the only one they will ever get. These boys will learn how to break the cycle, how to be honorable men, fathers, husbands and co-workers. Not all may make it but they will be given a chance. I wish all communities had this program. I wish Ferguson had a 5000 Role Models club of it’s own.
The program’s symbol is a large hand and a small hand reaching for each other, an appropriate symbol for the work they do. They are teaching these boys how to become role models and in turn, the boys are teaching the mentors that there are good boys out there and not to prejudge. It is a win win.
The program does not hold back. They talk about real issues. They tell them how to deal with the police if they are stopped. They say, for example, that if they wear their pants low and an officer stops them and says to put their hands up, they could reach to pull up their pants and the officer could think they are reaching for a gun. Mentors take them to prisons to see first hand what they are like. They talk to prisoners to learn where they went wrong. Mentors even explain what happens during an execution. Heavy stuff but the program works. In an age of graphic movies and video games, the dangers to our youth are very real — the solution can’t be sugar-coated.
When I decided to move to Miami people thought we were crazy. Why do you want to live there? people said. Especially since I had been living in the posh, golf community of Ponte Vedra Beach, a town small enough to be exclusive. Now we live in a Haitian-Dominican community that is very much an urban neighborhood with its share of police activity. Of course I’m careful but I can honestly say I have had nothing to fear. My door is often unlocked, I know my neighbors, even if I don’t know their language.
There is plenty Miami does wrong, like any big city, but I think that communities like Miami have been forced to deal with issues that other areas that are more isolated, that have more gates, don’t have to… yet.