AFRICANGOBE – A group of successful Black men who know all too well the obstacles they faced on the way up are sharing a message of hope with students who look like them: We made it, and you can, too.
“When you think about the statistics of who is not going to graduate this year,” Denver community activist Jeff Fard told black George Washington High School students last week, “the majority look like us.”
Confronting the reality that Black students are about twice as likely to drop out of high school as their White classmates, a group that Fard founded has been visiting Denver schools and talking to Black students.
Fard, also known as “Brother Jeff,” formed Black Men in Support of Education to bring Black men of all professions and backgrounds into contact with youngsters so they could underscore for the students the value of education.
Last week the group talked to students at George Washington, Manual and charter school Sims-Fayola International Academy high schools.
“I was told I could never own a radio station,” said Jim Walker, 74, who worked in sales in the 1960s before spending 17 years as general manager at Denver radio station KDKO.
In 1988, he and his partners bought the station.
The men encouraged students to ask for their phone numbers, giving the kids an opportunity to find a mentor.
“I found it very inspirational. They gave me knowledge of what to do and what to expect from myself,” said Yared Belay, 18, a senior in George Washington’s International Baccalaureate program.
Fard, who grew up in Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood and attended the school, said he had to repeat the 12th grade. He called the experience a defining moment.
“I like to say that the 12th grade was the most difficult time of my life. One of the most difficult things for me to do was come back and repeat.”
Denver Sheriff Department Division Chief Frank Gale, 50, lived in Massachusetts until his father died when he was 7 years old.
His mother moved Gale and his siblings to Denver.
“In my preadolescent years, I was getting in a lot of trouble. I had to be moved out of that environment, and she recognized that. I would be nothing if she had not done everything she could to get us out,” he said.
His mother also told Gale, who thought high school was a waste of time, that he wouldn’t have any opportunities if he dropped out. “I listened, even if I didn’t agree.”
After high school, he went into the military, and then college. “I still love to learn,” he said.
The group told students that success doesn’t come without failure.
“It hurts when you fail, but it hurts more when you don’t try,” said professional mixed-martial artist Lumumba Sayers, 35.
Former Broncos running back Chris Brewer, 52, now regional sales director with ESPN 1580, told the students that failure is part of the game, and success depends on learning from it. “Everybody is going to get knocked back down, but can you get back up?”
Harvard graduate Raymond Dean Jones, 68, whose judicial career includes 15 years as a judge on the Colorado Court of Appeals, said throughout his career he dealt with people who made bad choices. He tried to “help them to know this was not the end it was an opportunity” to begin a new life on a straighter path, he said.
Some members of the George Washington IB program asked the group of more than 30 men for advice on how to interest other Black students in joining the program.
At a breakout session, the students heard a host of suggestions. Fard, who said when he was in school no teacher or counselor ever talked to him about going to college, suggested students start by sparking conversation with likely prospects about plans they might have for college.
“As IB students you can go up to hardheads or anybody and say, ‘What college are you going to go to?’ ” he said.
John Riley, a former administrator for the Colorado Department of Corrections and now a senior staffer at the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, told the group he was willing to act as an adviser in efforts to draw more African-Americans.
They accepted his offer. Riley and the other men “showed how much so many others are willing to help you,” said Eaba Dechasa Jr., 17, a junior in the IB program.
After the presentation at George Washington, ninth-grader Fejoun Powell, 14, said he wants to be a pro football player or a business entrepreneur and intends to go to college. The tales he heard of obstacles overcome were inspirational, he said.
“I believe this presentation was very moving,” he said.
Cameron Connors, an 18-year-old senior, said he hears some students say they are having trouble with school and probably won’t graduate. The stories the men told carry hope for people who believe they don’t have potential, he said.
“It made you overcome fear of failure,” Connors said. “They make you feel like you can do whatever you want.”
By: Tom McGhee