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Mentor program transforms boys to men

AP Wire • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:40 PM

But the Waverly High School senior found guidance through a mentoring program that targets primarily black boys and teens.

Through Turning Point of Lansing, DeMyers said he has developed some of the life skills that will help as he pursues theology studies.

"Growing up without a father in my life and mentorship and men around me, it made me stronger and it was encouraging," DeMyers said. He plans to attend Lansing Community College for two years starting in the fall, then transfer to a Christian college. "The most important thing the program has taught me is spiritual guidance and counting on the Lord — you can't make it without him."

The 7-year-old Turning Point, with a motto of "transforming boys to men," currently has 110 black youths in grades 7-12 — including 16 seniors who have grown from boys to men under its guidance.

It offers group mentoring to all boys but its structure is Afro-centric.

"We've made it that way because of the rites of passage and what it represents — the transition from boyhood to manhood," said executive director Mandeville Berry. "So, after you go through all your rituals, then you actually are given the rites of passage to become a young man."

The program is based on the seven principles of Kwanzaa. Seminars and workshops address key issues such as education, relationships, health, communication skills, financial responsibility, sexual responsibility and professionalism.

Turning Point got its start as a part of the Gentlemen of Distinction, an offshoot of the Jack and Jill of America Inc. Lansing chapter. Jack and Jill of America Inc., is a national children's organization founded in 1938 to provide educational, cultural, civic, recreational, and social activities for youth between the ages of 2 and 19.

LCC officials helped the group organize and provided meeting space.

Only six people showed up at the first meeting — founders Berry, Lee Richardson III and Duane Williams and three boys.

That number didn't satisfy Berry. He recruited at barbershops, churches and elsewhere in neighborhoods throughout Lansing.

That next year they had about 25 boys and the number keeps growing.

"We haven't looked back since," said Berry.

In the initial session, the young men are asked to set goals, write them down, and they are collected. At the end of the year, they're passed back out to see where they are.

"They don't always complete their goals" said Berry. "Some may find out it was a little more structured than they could handle with all of their courses, some wrote something down, but never put it anywhere else."

Mentoring is done by "elders," — a term Berry said is less boring to the boys than "mentor."

"People think we're preaching to the choir," said Berry.

"It's nothing like that. It's like a self-serve class and we're trying to work it where we teach the leadership and have the young men teach other and give the support. That's why we have these breakout sessions and things. It engages the young men into being conversational with their peers and not just sit and listen."

The 25 elders range from college students and lawyers to state employees and retirees.

Chris E. Smith of Lansing is one of the younger "elders." He moved to Lansing from Georgia for a job in 2011, and after doing a presentation, met some of the elders, attended a meeting, and has been there since.

"Due to numerous factors that are limiting us in society, a lot of the young men, especially the young men in this program, the younger ones, may only see the negative side of life," said Smith. "It's really important for elders to present ourselves as not only on paper an example of success, but actually show them how to live it out."

Elder Todd "T.J." Duckett, a former Michigan State University and NFL player, was first approached about becoming involved with Turning Point about two years ago. When he went to the first meeting, he saw black men — elders — from a wide range of backgrounds and ideals, about 40 of them. And that really stood out.

"Since then, I've been 100 percent in, 100 percent doing whatever I could to be a part of it and help the young men," said Duckett. "Ultimately they want to have success and create and develop young African-American males. And that's my passion. What I love about this organization is they allow you to be you as long as the young men are your primary focus. And I absolutely love it."

Although the group focuses on achieving success in school, the community and in life, there also are fun activities for the young men, including a bus trip to the Circle City Classic in Indianapolis, game nights, a YMCA "Y'' Achievers college tour, and an educational trip to Washington, D.C.

A family friend recommended the Turning Point to Micah Thompson, a senior at Okemos High School, saying it was a great program and it would help him with his future. Thompson joined the program his junior year in high school.

"With the principles they taught, I was able to apply to my daily life being more involved with my community, having more respect for other people around me and just my work ethic," said Thompson. "I was able to focus more on my education, and really dig down deep to work hard."

He will attend Brown University in the fall to study chemistry and computer science.

— By Vickki Dozier, Lansing State Journal (AP)

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