BOYS TO MEN It was a simple act. A pint-sized first grader holding my hand while we marched for education. A little brown hand, still with its baby dimples, in my rough white hands, blistered and callused from my weekend yard work. A simple act, but one that rekindled my soul.
The march was part of the inaugural Boys to Men breakfast held at the A.A. Charter School of Excellence. It was the brainchild of Rev. Lonnie Wesley III, pastor of Greater Little Rock Baptist Church and moderator of the First West Florida Baptist District Association–99 men eating breakfast with 99 boys, sharing their stories and encouraging the students.
The theme of the breakfast was, “It’s easier to keep a boy from picking up a gun then it is to take one from his hands.” When Pastor Wesley called to invite to me, he said, “We want to show these young men more positive role models.”
We didn’t quite have 99 men show up on that Friday morning, so each of us got two boys. My boys were Jaaz, a third grader, and Davon, who is in the first grade. The first few minutes were tough. I’m six feet, hitting the scales at 230. I knew my big head with its gray hair would be intimidating.
Fortunately, I was in the food line with Capt. David Alexander of the Pensacola Police Department. The boys wanted to know all about his uniform, handcuffs, radio and gun. He helped me break the ice.
At the table, we talked about the school. I had brought my black book, the notebook I use for all my interviews. The boys struggled to read my scribble but became fascinated about how a newspaper works and who I’ve interviewed. I let them write their names in the book. They asked if they could draw their pictures in it, which I, of course, agreed to. We talked about the importance of writing and reading.
Others joined in and asked to write their names in the book, too. Barriers melted away. We laughed, teased and enjoyed each other’s company over a breakfast of fried mullet and grits.
After breakfast, we paraded with the boys through the neighborhood surrounding the school. Lumon May and others pointed out houses and places along the way and shared stories about growing up in Morris Court. Not all the tales were happy ones—they showed where people had been killed and where drug deals were commonplace.
While we walked in the street, Davon reached up and grabbed my hand. He was walking in the street and had been taught to hold a grown-up’s hand when crossing the street. That simple act propelled me back to my childhood, when a white child risked a beating from his peers or others for befriending an African-American. I still remember the fights and threats because I refused to bend.
The stubbornness that nearly got me killed when I was in my teens remains. Injustice still angers me and pushes me to fight for better and safer public schools. It drives me to criticize white and black politicians for getting caught up in their stupid political games while people are hurting.
Holding Davon’s hand reminded me why we fight to make this community better for all of its people. Davon deserves a better world. It’s our job to make it so.