Black men bring positive message to Philly schoolchildren

Posted: November 15, 2012

YOU WON'T OFTEN come across a news headline that begins: "Local guy does something nice."

The cynic in you might say it's because such a story could be boring - and then maybe come up with a snarky Twitter hashtag to underscore this point.

But you should have been in South Philly at Andrew Jackson Elementary School on Tuesday, when a bunch of local guys did something nice, something valuable, something important.

The 20 or so fellas, decked out in suits, blazers and sweaters, talked to a group of third- and fourth-graders about having goals in life and putting in the hard work to achieve 'em as part of the kickoff for Year 2 of Black Male Engagement (BMe).

BMe, which is supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and other philanthropic groups, was launched a year ago in Detroit and Philadelphia, bringing together more than 2,000 black men who recorded videos about the positive work they do every day in their neighborhoods.

About $425,000 in grants also were awarded to applicants to further their community work, said Donna Frisby-Greenwood, the Knight Foundation program director for Philadelphia.

The growing network again seeks husbands, fathers, uncles and big brothers to tell their stories, which are displayed at http://bmecommunity.org.

And BMe is looking for guys to do random acts of service, like the positively giddy get-together Tuesday at Jackson Elementary, 12th and Federal streets.

Alex Peay, a North Philly resident who serves as a BMe community-engagement manager, conducted a science activity that taught students to construct a water filter from cotton balls, charcoal and pebbles.

The handful of students who created a successful filter shrieked with delight.

"It's really exciting to see how many guys came out, regardless of the rain, to show support and work with the kids," said Peay, 25, an Ursinus College alum who received a grant from BMe last year to boost his nonprofit group, Rising Sons, which offers job training and civic-engagement lessons to young men.

Bruce Marable, 29, who cofounded Defined Clarity, a web-design and technology firm, emphasized the need for students to consider how current lessons in school could help them down the road.

"You have to relate to kids through things that are on their level," said the Southwest Philly native. "You tell them, 'You need to understand math, because you might build the next Angry Birds.' "

Christopher Holland, 34, a Drexel University alum who cofounded Connexus Technology, a health-systems software company, said he hoped BMe would show local youths some paths in life that they might not have considered.

"I went through the Philadelphia school system and went to college here," he said. "Hopefully they'll see that they can do something else in life besides what they see in their [neighborhood] or on TV. They don't have to be a statistic."

" @dgambacorta

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