When Michele Lawrence learned of the alarming high-school dropout rate statistics and high chances of imprisonment for African-American boys, she was motivated to start an organization that would fight against those odds.
Lawrence attended a neighborhood meeting with a friend discussing imprisonment and education and how it relates to African-American boys.
“I heard prisons were being built in Pennsylvania based on the test scores of eight-year-old boys,” Lawrence said. “Now they’re telling 8-year-old boys, ‘don’t dare to dream because you’ll be an inmate rather than a graduate.’”
Lawrence felt something had to be done right away. She called a meeting with a few men she knew to discuss her concerns. Inspired by a ceremony for Cheyney University’s teacher leadership program, Call Me MISTER, Lawrence and her team launched Saving Our Boys.
Saving Our Boys is a program in conjunction with Call Me MISTER, providing opportunity, access and support to young boys of color in the Philadelphia metropolitan community.
This past August, the Saving Our Boys Summer Leadership Development Institute was created to fight the drop-out rates and prison epidemic amongst African-American males.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, African Americans in Pennsylvania reported having a high-school dropout rate during the 2007–2008 year of 5.7 percent compared to 1.7 percent of whites.
In an effort to counteract these statistics, the program held its first cohort of 31 boys from various high schools ranging in grades 9–12. The young men stayed on Cheyney’s campus for five days from Aug. 10 to 14. The program focused on goal setting, college preparedness, SAT preparation and pre-professional skills. The participants also had the opportunity to participate in recreational activities such as swimming, tennis, golf and basketball.
The young men kept busy beginning their day at 7 a.m. with a 40-minute workout, followed by showers and breakfast, leading to meditation. Throughout the rest of the day, there were workshops and mentoring discussions with various professional men.
“It’s a village we are creating to save these boys,” Lawrence said. “I’m always on the phone with parents.”
One of those parents, Kia Mason, felt the workshops and dorm-like experience have had a positive impact on her two sons. Mason’s two sons, Dontae DeLoapch (18) and Brandon Henderson (17), attended the summer program, and both young men left with a greater skill base and enhanced perspective.
Mason is extremely proud of Henderson’s new entrepreneurial mindset she believes is a result of her son’s experience with Saving Our Boys.
“They had a session about owning your own business,” Mason said. “Brandon took that and related it to his love for cutting hair.”
Henderson made his own business plan and pitched his business idea to an investor. He was able to get an investor to buy his equipment for cutting hair and now travels to people’s houses to cut their hair — or cuts right out of their basement.
“I always knew how to cut hair, but it motivated me to start doing it and stacking up clientele,” Henderson said. “I now have 20 clients.”
Mason believes her son, DeLopach, has gained great communication skills from being a part of Saving Our Boys.
“What I’ve noticed is, he is coming out of his shell,” she said. DeLopach is a senior at Penn Wood High School and is planning on attending college after graduation.
The Saving Our Boys program certainly did not end in the summer. The program has continued with monthly Saturday sessions during the school year with the directors of the program. One important initiative within the program is public service in which the participants volunteered and painted a house in November. They also visited the African American Museum in Philadelphia and participated in various meetings and programs with their mentors, expanding on the ideas and principles from the summer. The program will be expanding to include middle-school age boys, and Lawrence and her team plan to have sessions for this younger group next summer.
Saving Our Boys works to repair the vision and future of African-American males by guiding young men to a bright future.