Saving Our Sons
This spring, Roosevelt University student journalists chronicled efforts across the city aimed at educating, helping and saving young black males who face dire statistics.
Making A Difference
Across the city, people are on the front lines, seeking to make a difference through community organizations, churches, schools and also other programs. Among them is Breakthrough Urban Ministries.
Taking it to the Streets
Roosevelt University journalism students in the convergence newsroom sought to document how some people across the city are fighting to save our sons, seeking answers from programs like the South Shore Drill Team.
Despite the dire statistics, the sounds of life, progress and hope sprout from the hallowed halls of schools like Providence-St. Mel and Christ the King.
Through discussions, group exercises, field trips and one-on-one counseling, B.A.M. seeks to develop the kind of character in the boys for them to find stability and strength, even in the midst of turbulent families and violent neighborhoods.
When the bell rings for the next school period to start, the boys trickle into the wide hallway with maroon lockers along the walls. Herded along by the teachers, the boys disappear into a flow of maroon and kaki identically-clad students shuffling to their next classes.
According to Becoming A Man program counselors, one of the final stages of becoming a man is learning how to face and accept criticism from your peers and colleagues. Even though all of the counselors have already become men, they too say they live by the values they teach to at-risk young men throughout Chicago through B.A.M., a mentoring, counseling and anti-violence program created by Anthony DiVittorio.
“Working with Tony is really great,” Tim Jackson, a B.A.M. counselor said. “If you get the chance to read the curriculum, you can tell he really poured it out on it.
In addition to Jackson, B.A.M. counselors Calvin Ferguson and Jason Story expressed similar sentiments and said they consider DiVittorio to be an older brother more than anything.
“When Tony comes to the groups, the guys focus differently,” Ferguson said. “He’s almost like a brother in a sense—he’s the brother who’s been everywhere and now he’s come home to tell the story.” Story explained how significant DiVittorio’s involvement with the youth in the program really is, saying that even the most ‘knuckle-head’ of youth pay attention when DiVittorio’s around.
“When Tony is around, even they want to know more about him,” Story said. “They renamed him, ‘Tone-Bone,’ and call him ‘Steven Seagal.’”
Principal Robert Evans, tall and youthful, then took over, explaining that track is his favorite sport. “From sixth grade through junior year I was running,” he said. “I went to school debt-free on a track scholarship.”
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The sounds of laughter and playing rang out from a classroom and down a hallway towards the front of the building. At the entrance, a fish-tank hummed loudly while fish swim lazily. Across from the tank, a case proudly displays trophies documenting the achievements of the center. At a large circular desk surrounded by pictures of kids, information, and a large piece of white paper covered with children’s handprints, Ms. Campbell, a parent-volunteer, sits, greeting parents and children.
Since the center runs programs from head-start to a teen program, many siblings are at the center together, giving them a chance to spend time together instead of doing something on their own at home.
As the day went on, it became evident that parents and the community were a prominent part of the Rebecca Crown Center. Posted around the entrance were flyers for upcoming events and a box collecting toy for the center’s ongoing toy drive.
According to the Lakeview Action Coalition, there are approximately 26,000 youths in Illinois that experience homelessness with15,000 youths in Chicago alone. Youths who have to suffer homelessness have very few options in order to help them get back on their feet, say officials. But several organizations around the city, including the Night Ministry, are working to help them find a way to get back on their feet. Megan Groves, marketing & communications coordinator for The Night Ministry, a Lakeview-based, non-profit organization that helps homeless youths, says the most important thing is to offer help to these kids no matter what situation.
Their transitional living program, Groves said, offers youths with a longer stay limit. Youths, ages 16-20 can stay at the shelter for as long as two years.Groves said the Night Ministry opened a new shelter in January of this year, which is open January to May. The shelter, Groves said is the city’s first overnight only youth shelter.
But Groves said the most important thing is to build trust and relationships with the young people the agency serves.
The Night Ministry
|Photo source: www.JesseWhitetumblers.com|
Before the act, Tavais Fletcher picked up a game of basketball with fellow tumblers in his bright red and white sweatshirt that boasts his home city of Chicago. As a veteran tumbler at age 20, Fletcher has seen how the structure of training, tutoring and teamwork impacts children from across the city. The team serves as a juvenile delinquency prevention program to keep kids away from drinking and drugs.
“We don’t let people get off the path. They drop below a C average, we help them during the summer and they get back on in the fall,” says Fletcher.
In the 52 years that the Jesse White Tumbling Team has been performing, a C-average for student tumblers has indeed been mandatory to continue on the team. To keep student-athletes on the right path, report cards are brought in for review and those who do not make the grade must attend the tutoring program provided by the team.
“Put something in between your ears. In life, aim high. The only time you look down is to tie your shoes,” Jesse White himself says. “Be in school, on time, everyday.”
Education, celebrity, camaraderie and paid gigs also help keep tumblers on the path to success, organizers say. The team has traveled abroad, starred in 25 commercials, shared the stage with NFL, NBA and NHL stars and has more than 1,500 shows this year alone.
Recently, White—who is also Illinois’ secretary of state—sent Fletcher to the mat, reminding students not to try at home, a round-off, flip, back summersault as cheers followed.
The next tumbler, Marvin Johnson, snapped his suspenders and topped Fletcher’s act with a straight cartwheel, round-off, flip, back summersault full twist to an eruption of applause and shrieks that bounced off the walls of the small gym. Johnson ran through a pack of first-graders like a celebrity with hi-five’s, smiles and hugs.
Johnson will be enrolling at the University of Illinois in the fall. His tumbling background will follow him through college with a major in sports kinesiology.
“We love this, the kids. I mean, we do everything; churches, weddings, barbeques, any family gathering really,” says Johnson, speaking of where the group performs.
As those in attendance watched Johnson interact with the kids smiles spread across the gym, so infectious that even the two suits at the door couldn’t resist.
“You would think [White] would be the one in the suit,” said one teacher of the security standing at the door.
As secretary of state, White travels in a black SUV with two bodyguards, who wear dashing black suits. But when traveling with any of his six tumbling teams, he travels in the group’s van and wears sweats that match the young tumblers as he also tumbles and tucks.
A former member of the U.S. Army, White coaches all 285 tumblers on six teams with discipline and routine—or “tough love” as he calls it. Before the act, each tumbler has an assigned task, whether it is carrying out the mats or trampoline. The sooner the work is done, the sooner they can play. But the group’s mission is still serious business.
“Not all go to college, but the bulk graduate from high school. We want to keep them out of SWU, Sad Walk University,” says White. “Keep them leafless, smokeless and pipe-less.”
It is White’s belief that education keeps youths off the street and away from gangs. The tumbling team originally began as a positive alternative to housing projects such as Cabrini-Green and Henry Horner communities. The education program of the tumbling team helps give kids an alternative to gangs, drugs, alcohol and smoking.
The tumbling program is split into three parts: the tumbling team, the training program and the scholars program. With over 13,000 student-athletes that have been through the tumbling team, there are 25 currently enrolled in college. The Jesse White Tumbling Team offers $1,000 to $5,000 in college scholarships.
Though the program is designed to keep kids on the right track, some may stray. Both Fletcher and Johnson have seen how living without structure outside of school can affect the rest of their lives. And both remember with regret friends who lost their way and even those who were never on the team—lost to the street, to gangs, crime and prison.
“If you choose that system, that’s your choice,” says Fletcher. We get on the right path here. We have guys who get out and send their kids here.”