Forest Heights event hopes to turn 'Boys 2 Men'

Kwari Harvey speaks with his 5-year-old son, Kwari, a pre-kindergartner at Forest Heights Elementary School, during the Boys2Men program, which brings students, fathers, uncles, big brothers and mentors together for an afternoon of empowerment.
Kwari Harvey speaks with his 5-year-old son, Kwari, a pre-kindergartner at Forest Heights Elementary School, during the Boys2Men program, which brings students, fathers, uncles, big brothers and mentors together for an afternoon of empowerment. (Raphael Talisman)

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By Andrew Waite
The Gazette
Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sixth-grader Elijah Brown's blue dress shirt bagged out over his beltless khakis inside the cafeteria at Forest Heights Elementary School in Oxon Hill. The loose look may have been a style choice, but it also was clear that Elijah had some room to grow into in those dress clothes.

Elijah was dressed for the third annual "Boys 2 Men" event at the school March 3 - a program its creator says is designed to help young men such as Elijah, a 12-year-old Oxon Hill resident, learn how to become the right kind of person.

"We're growing up, and we're maturing. And people, like our parents and stuff, like male role models, they come and they help show us what a man looks like and how to act like a man," said Elijah, who was joined at the program by most of the school's 113 boys and about 85 of their fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers, uncles and other male mentors.

Included in the event are a luncheon and a keynote speaker. This year's event featured motivational speaker Clifton Coates, who asked the boys to repeat: "If it is meant to be, it's up to me, and if I don't stand for something, I'll fall for anything."

Coates, who donated his time, told the boys that life is about respecting others and yourself and that it's important to heed the advice of the successful men in their lives.

The two-hour annual event provides the men and the boys a chance to talk about what it means to be a successful man. In addition to speeches, the participants are encouraged to discuss questions such as, "Who is your male role model, and why?"; "What subject do you like best in school, and why?"; and "What do you like about your dad, grandfather."

Victor Turner, a pre-kindergarten teacher who cofounded Boys 2 Men with music teacher Charles Robinson, said the $2,500 program is funded by donations and grants, adding that he hopes it triggers regular visits into the school by male figures. About a dozen of the 80 to 100 men at this year's event pledged to make monthly visits to the school.

Turner, 52, started the program as a way to bring fathers, stepfathers, uncles, brothers, grandfathers and other men into the school when he realized that Forest Heights Elementary School's boys needed more males to admire.

"Sometimes, they don't see positive role models, someone to emulate," he said. "They can talk about it, you can read about it, but this lets you see an actual person."

Every boy in the school participates in the program, Turner said, adding that the men's participation has held fairly steady for the three years. In the future, he'd like to see monthly weekend field trips or evening events that bring the boys and men together without taking time out of the school day, he said.

The school, which serves grades pre-K through six, has five male staff members compared with 17 females, Turner said, adding that the ratio makes it hard for the boys to have sufficient male influences.

Christopher Walker, a 41-year-old Suitland resident, attended the event to support his two stepsons, sixth-grader Darien Arnold, 11, and fourth-grader Christopher Arnold, 10.


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