African American Mentoring Program Helps Younger Boys The Frederick Douglass Academy Wants To Start Early. Boys Between 6 And 11 Are The Target.

Posted: October 23, 1994

WILLINGBORO — Eugene Maddred Jr. and other members of the Burlington County chapter of Concerned Black Men are looking to make a few good men.

And they're starting young, as young as 6 years old.

They have started the Frederick Douglass Academy, a mentoring program aimed at the personal, social and cultural development of African American boys 6 to 11 years old.

"Our future is in the hands of our children, and right now the future for African American men does not look good," said Maddred, program director for the academy, which meets Saturday mornings at Burlington County College's Willingboro campus at John F. Kennedy High School. "We hope this program will keep these kids on track."

About 30 boys are enrolled in the yearlong program, which started last weekend.

The idea is to show them that success does not mean they have to be Dr. J or Michael Jordan, said Rick Thurston, president of the 22-member group.

"It's fine for these kids to have a goal, to be as famous as Michael Jordan, but for nearly all of us, that isn't going to happen," he said.

Two years ago, Alpha Phi Alpha, a black service fraternity, started the Afri-Male Institute, designed to counter the sobering statistics about young African American men and aimed at middle and high school boys throughout Burlington County.

The popularity of that project, which continues to meet at the Kennedy school, prompted Concerned Black Men to start a similar program for younger boys, said Maddred.

"You have to grab the African American male at a young age and let them know their lives are important," he said.

The task is daunting: State statistics show that while African American students make up about 20 percent of the school population, they constitute 35 percent of the dropouts; they also show that young African American males are two to five times as likely to be suspended from school as their white counterparts, and three times as likely to find themselves in special- education classes.

The Frederick Douglass Academy, named after the former slave and abolitionist, features leadership training, computer education, college visits, jazz appreciation, classes in human sexuality, and community service projects.

"We may not have all the answers, but we hope we can show these young boys that there are men in their own communities who have achieved success and who want to see them also be successful and have fulfilling lives," said C. Edward Miller, a member of Concerned Black Men.

That is why Marie A. Mateen of Willingboro, enrolled her son Rashad, 8.

"I think it's good for African American boys to have good role models, and while role models like Michael Jordan are fine, I think it's important for boys to see successful men who are members of their own community," she said. ''Such a program, I hope, will keep Rashad on track and focused on achievement."

Rashad said: "I wanted to come. I don't want to be bored" staying at home.

Lorraine Sabir of Willingboro enrolled her sons, Saleem, 9, and Shadeed, 7, so they would learn more about their heritage.

"And the fact that it's on a Saturday morning is an added plus," Sabir said. "No more cartoons."

While he admitted that his mother had made him attend, William Cousart, 8, of Willingboro, said: "I'm having a lot of fun."

And his friend Bilal Floyd, 8, of Willingboro, also is eager to return.

"We're going to get pen pals from South Africa," said Bilal.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

* About the Frederick Douglass Academy, call Eugene Maddred at 238-8073. About the Afri-Male Institute, call Ted Nixon at 877-1358.

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