Of the 12 young men who participated in the Brotherhood of Respect organization in the 2011-2012program, seven are left. The organization’s founder and sponsor, Edgar Griffin, is more pleased than ever with the “Significant Seven.”
“Two of them graduated. Javarious Reed is working and going to school in Miami where he lives with an uncle. The K’Dentris Yon is attending Tallahassee Community College and working part time in the school district. They keep in touch with me and so do their parents. Two have gone back to their home school and another dropped out after he left CPA,” Griffin said.
That is to be expected when you are working with young people who are sometimes struggling with challenges at home, sometimes in the classroom and sometimes just growing up. Some of them have fathers at home and some do not.
Griffin began the program three years after he was recruited by then-principal Lillie Jackson who wanted to focus on helping young black men. Griffin had plenty of experience because they had worked in the Young Black Male Explorers Program housed at Florida A & M University each summer.
The program brings at-risk black males from all over the state for an intensive summer program, which includes academics, life and social skills, and mentoring.
When Griffin came to Carter Parramore Academy as a behavioral specialist, he saw some of the same traits in young men at CPA as he did in others from around the state.
“They really didn’t like their behavior. They wanted to do better but they also wanted to fit in. My job was to show them how to fit in positively. In our society, the young black man is often portrayed in a negative way, which is not the case a majority of the time,” Griffin said.
Griffin only invited certain young men to join the group after he observed their behavior on campus and their interaction with administrators and other students. He wanted the organization to be successful, and he wanted it to be a beacon of light to other males who were willing to respect themselves and others.
“I had heard a lot of talk from these young men about respect. They talked about this one or that one not respecting them. So I chose that name because I needed to teach them that before anyone will respect you, you must to learn to respect yourself,” he said.
Earlier this year, at the end of the 2011-2012 school year, Griffin presented the young men to society. Dressed in tuxedos and white ties, the young men were introduced to the community during a special program.
When school started again in August, the numbers had dwindled, and Griffin considered adding more students. It’s not that the others could not benefit from the organization, but after much soul-searching he decided against it.
“First, I didn’t want the organization to get too large where I couldn’t help them attain the things they needed to attain to have success. The ones I have now have learned so much and they have changed so much, and I didn’t want them to fall back or be influenced by newcomers,” Griffin said.
The members are now required to volunteer in the community and at school. In the past three months, they have honored female administrators and teachers at the school with gifts during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, have met and had a private audience with Charles “Roc” Dutton when he came to Quincy promoting voter education and been honored by the Quincy City Commission during one of their regular meetings.
They have decorated the hallways for Thanksgiving. Christmas decorations at the school went up in early December, and the young men prepared and served the School Advisory Council with a holiday breakfast.
Twice per month the students, wearing dress shirts and ties, spend a few hours in Quincy’s Customer Service Department. Director Ann Sherman provides them with a list of telephone numbers and a script. The students introduce themselves and offer a gentle reminder that the utility bill has not been paid and give the cutoff date and time.
“Some of our customers really appreciate the courtesy call. Some time they’ve simply forgotten,” Sherman said.
Griffin said the exercise is twofold. The students are learning to interact with people in a business office, and they are getting training they can put on their resumes when they go job hunting.
“This is a great help to us. They are also helping the customers and they enjoy it,” said Sherman.
Griffin also realizes he must bring the members of the organization along slowly.
“You have to be careful, and you have to show them what they can do for themselves. I let them explore their own ideas. They are at the point now that they tell me what they would like to do as projects,” he said.
They have progressed to a point where they are ready for competition outside Gadsden County.
“The 100 Black Men of Tallahassee holds public speaking contests where counties (Leon Jefferson, and Wakulla) compete against each other. The students give speeches on pride in their schools and pride in their communities. When I told them that some of the brightest students came from Gadsden County, they acted as if they didn’t believe me. I’m going to show them that they can have that distinction again,” he said.
Griffin is now searching for the second class to carry the name “Brotherhood of Respect.”
“I am watching several young men on the campus and the current members of the organization are in the process of seeing who meets the criteria for the organization and they will be making nominations soon. I had to turn one young man down who asked about joining but I had observed him being rude and disrespectful and all of those things we talk about not being. But I haven’t given up on him. I’ll always do my best to help them succeed,” Griffin said.