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My Younger Brother's Keeper

Vendors at Community Volunteer Fair Seek Black Male Role Models

Freshman Cleon Rich volunteers with a local agency.

When Cleon Rich, a freshman biology major, graduated from his Kilmarnock, Va., high school last year, he was the only black male in his graduating class who was going to college.

“It was a problem for me,” he said. But he believes that if black males are reached at a young age, you can “break the cycle of them not furthering their education.”

This desire to reach back is what motivated Rich to attend the annual Community Volunteer Fair on the Kilgore Plaza on Sept. 5, sponsored by the Bonner Office of Community Service. The 35 community partners seeking volunteers for their organizations had prepared spiels, cards and pamphlets with proof that Rich’s experience, unfortunately, was not an isolated occurrence, but one happening at an alarming rate across the country.

A postcard from the Prodigy Project, a mentoring program targeting black boys ages 5 to 9, stated that more black men in their 20s are in prison (34 percent) than at work (30 percent). Education, it also stated, is the only hope for black boys. “Without successful smart black men to aspire to, and solid reading skills, many of our boys won’t succeed in school,” it stated.

Jerome L. Beaner, the senior program coordinator with ForeverFamily, an organization that assists children of incarcerated parents, said the organization is seeking more men to inspire black boys.

“Somewhere between 70 and 80 percent of these kids end up committing crime,” he explained. Beaner, who regularly volunteers in a local elementary school reading to children, says many of the black male students he encounters have reading problems and have difficulty with letter recognition.

He sees the difference in the male students when he is there. “They seem to look up to me,” he said. “We need more men to encourage them. We have many kids who don’t have men in their families. We need more male role models.”

Beaner was hoping to recruit 20 to 25 Morehouse students. An hour and a half into the four-hour fair, he had seven students on his sign-up sheet. “I’m confident I’ll get at least 20,” he said.

According to the Bonner Office of Community Service, the annual event signed up 100 new volunteers last fall, and, for the first time, a second fair is being planned for the spring.

TigerPoint, which is accessible through TigerNet, tracks the volunteer work of 700 students and allows the Bonner Office to show the statistical impact of student volunteerism.

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