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School administrators create program to help young Black men

Posted at 8:00 PM, Apr 28, 2022

CLEVELAND — It’s no secret that when it comes to young Black men, the odds are stacked against them, whether it’s in the classroom or in the real world.

A pair of Cleveland Metro School District administrators decided it was time to do something to reverse the course and give these young men the tools they need to thrive.

A group of about 20 young men came back to the classroom after school at Campus International’s grade school campus to learn some really important lessons.

“We want to give them high-quality resources, we want to give them quality time. We want to be patient with them. We want to show them that we can believe in them. And that’s the most important thing — that we believe in them," said Gary Hicks Sr., the CEO and founder of Young Men Growing.

The non-profit is helping to guide a group of young Black men into their adulthood.

Cameron Mathis, the Chief Operating Officer of Young Men Growing, and Hicks are also both administrators at the school.

Hicks serves as an Intervention Specialist and Mathis is the school's Dean.

“You could see the disciplinary trends in our young Black men. Overuse of suspensions. Overuse of detentions. Over diagnoses of behavioral changes,” said Mathis.

The change started five years ago after the two of them put their heads together and created Young Men Growing because of a plea from their school’s principal.

“I saw the anger. I saw the frustration. I saw the pain. I saw the single mothers crying. Kids being arrested. Young men being killed, ”said Hicks.

The focus is on young Black men between 11 and 18. During the pandemic, this program expanded to include young men from across the country, courtesy of Zoom.

“I think the program is good for all boys, but especially boys who are coming from single-mother homes,” said mother Dejenaba Lockett.

Lockett has two sons in Young Men Growing. As a single mother, she says the program has been a tremendous help when it comes to raising her boys.

“I noticed a real growth in them. My sons are real defenders of women," Lockett said.

“More than 75% of Black households are single parents, and most of those households are fatherless. Somebody’s got to step in and do some work to change it. Somebody’s got to step in and stop the fatherlessness rate from going up. Somebody’s got to disrupt the financial instability in our communities,” said Mathis.

Hicks and Mathis said their group of mentees falls in line with that statistic. So they built a curriculum that teaches these young men about finances, their emotions, leadership, and how to give back.

“Things that we feel us, as Black men need, we ‘gon get it to them. We’re going to make sure they get it. It’s tough out here so you need somebody that’s going to step in, block some things, whisper in your ear, and say hey, it's another way you can go,” said Mathis.

Young Men Growing is a free program and they’re now accepting applications for their summer session, which kicks off in June.

The non-profit’s co-founders say they’re looking to expand with the help of grants and more staff.

For more information on Young Men Growing, click here.