Morris H. Hudson is not ashamed to reveal that he and his family have no income. Whenever the boys in his community group make food baskets to give to the needy, his family always gets the first one. In fact, he would still be driving a beat-up Toyota van with 254,900 miles on it if not for the kindness of local businessmen who gave him a new vehicle.
Hudson quit his job earlier this year to work full time running B.R.O.T.H.E.R.S., a group that he started a decade ago. Hudson organizes youths at five Montgomery County high schools to tutor and mentor middle and elementary school students. They collect food and clothing for the needy. They do maintenance work at churches. Hudson takes them on tours of colleges and gives them career advice. He acts as a surrogate father.
The group's name is an acronym for "Brothers Reaching Out To Help Each Reach Success." There are 1,200 members, 800 of them in high school.
"We're the Boy Scouts of the new millennium," Hudson said. "But really, the Boy Scouts were not appealing to me 20 years ago. It's just not practical anymore. They don't confront the problems that people don't want to talk about."
The group has been successful. Mike Durso, principal of Springbrook High School in Silver Spring, said the number of fights at his school has decreased considerably in the past year, with B.R.O.T.H.E.R.S. being a key factor. This year, 58 of the group's 67 graduating seniors are going to college.
"I can think of at least a handful of kids who are going to graduate who otherwise wouldn't have made it," Durso said. "Not too many individuals or groups have a track record doing anything this successful with black males."
Hudson requires the boys to wear a jacket and tie to school every Thursday. He teaches them to speak properly to adults and helps turn unfocused troublemakers into respectful, driven young men. His military background and the understanding that accompanies having had a tough childhood infuse the program.
As much as he won't admit it, what makes B.R.O.T.H.E.R.S. stand out from other community programs is Hudson himself. A former Marine with a strong religious faith and a tell-it-like-it-is attitude, Hudson, 38, runs B.R.O.T.H.E.R.S. like a 24-hour-a-day job.
He does not yet receive a salary, because the group only recently received nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service and has not yet raised money. As a result, Hudson has no income and said he relies on friends and family to help him and his wife and three daughters.
"He is a guy who believes in God and his convictions, and he believes that if he does good, people will keep him from becoming a failure," said David Wimsatt, an adviser to Hudson and chief executive of the Gaithersburg management consulting firm Bold Concepts.
Wimsatt was so impressed with Hudson that he rallied other county business leaders and raised enough money to buy him a new van.
"I'm very touched by him," Wimsatt said.
Hudson grew up in Hampton, Va., where he lived with a mother and a father who he said paid little attention to him. Early on, he learned that the best way to get them to notice him was to get into trouble. "I would run with a nasty gang and do all kinds of stupid stuff that I had no right doing, in retrospect," Hudson said.
With few options, he joined the Marine Corps and worked in the infantry for 12 years. It was some "rough stuff," he said, "but that's when I became a man."
After he got married and his wife didn't like the life of a Marine, he left the service in 1989 and put his background to use as a behavior management specialist at Einstein High School in Kensington.
Every day, he recalled, the same four boys got suspended. Hudson started meeting with those boys regularly and encouraging them to stay in school. He arranged for them to start mentoring elementary school students. They started earning better grades and getting into less trouble.
B.R.O.T.H.E.R.S. grew out of those meetings.
Until 1992, the group consisted solely of black students, but it has since grown to include members of many races. Once a student joins the group, he is a member for life.
No members are recruited, and Hudson refuses to accept anyone who is coerced to join by their parents.
Hudson ran the program out of his home until last year, when Durso gave him work space at Springbrook. A few months ago, he left his job with the county's health and human services department.
Hudson's goal is simple: to teach boys that character is built "when no one is looking." He wants to continue to help youths like Alville Samuels, 19, who said he was expelled from two schools in Prince George's County before he came to Springbrook and became enlightened by B.R.O.T.H.E.R.S. Brian Campbell, 16, said he is more mature and more respectful of adults now.
And Geonard Butler no longer is a self-described "misguided loudmouth with a big ego but lots of insecurities" who merely joined the student government "to meet girls."
"He has gone through so much, so many hardships, and there's no commission for this," said Butler, 18, who said he never would have become the student representative on the county school board without Hudson's influence. "He almost gets no recognition, except that we'll succeed. There's no guarantee of that, but he still takes that risk."
Said Hudson, "I would die for these boys."
CAPTION: Morris H. Hudson, 38, founded the group about a decade ago.
CAPTION: Morris H. Hudson, far right, leads a meeting of B.R.O.T.H.E.R.S. at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring.
CAPTION: T-shirts worn by group members explain the group's goal.
CAPTION: Twice expelled from school, Alville Samuels, 19, says he became enlightened after joining the group.