For years, Roger Leonard served as a “corner man” for his brother, boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard. During his brother’s bouts, Leonard helped with advice and strategy from the sideline so the legendary boxer could become the icon he is today.
On Friday evening, Leonard symbolically reprised his role as “corner man” in a boxing ring set up at the First Baptist Church of Glenarden, where he was part of a dramatized sparring session to show that Christian men often need someone to keep them from being “blinded by the Devil” in the match of life.
“Boxing is like life. You are going to get knocked down, but you have to get up, brush yourself off and don’t quit,” said Leonard, who is also a member of the church. “The corner man is going to tell you what you don’t see. In life you don’t want to keep getting hit with the same punch.”
That was the theme of the 2013 Mighty Men of Valor “Battle Tested” National Men’s Conference at the Prince George’s County megachurch Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. More than 3,000 men listened to a range of speakers discuss how African American men can learn how to better love and support themselves. Speakers included retired Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin and other athletes, along with several nationally renowned pastors. All of the speakers discussed the need to not only be a “corner man” for others, but also seek support when needed.
“God is calling men to be men. God is calling servants to be servants. God is calling fathers to be fathers. God is calling the hopeless to have hope,” Lewis said to the crowd of thousands. He added that it was important that men not deal with their problems and challenges “in isolation.” “Show me your friends that you hang out with and I will show you your fruit,” he added.
Pastor Clifford Ashe, who founded the Mighty Men of Valor in Pennsylvania with 300 attendees 15 years ago, said the conference has drawn thousands because the “corner men” speak on a frequency that other men understand.
“Men are wired differently than women,” Ashe said during an interview. “Most of what women tell men is accurate, but they are talking on an FM channel. Men are on AM. During a conference like this, we are talking on the same frequency.”
While many came to listen to these hard lessons, others said they came for the fellowship. “I just wanted to be involved with men who love and praise the Lord, said James Ellison, who came to the event with a church group from Charlotte. “I have never been part of a thing like this.”
In standing-room only workshops Saturday, attendees listened to dozens of speakers. The day’s workshops included “Breaking the Marriage Code,” “Breaking the Bondage of Addiction,” “Grown Man Pain,” “Don’t Lose your Head” and “Man, Get Your Fight Back!”
Irvin, featured as a key “corner man” in the conference, opened his speech sitting on a bench in a staged boxing ring.
Standing in a white robe, the Pro Football Hall of Famer spoke of growing up in poverty in Florida and finding a way out. “I am entitling this ‘Put Your Dukes Up,’ ” Irvin told the men who had traveled from as far away as the West Coast, the Caribbean and Africa.
Irvin told the men to overcome their fears. “God has something better for you,” Irvin said. “Get your house in order. There is a movement going on right now. God is calling all Mighty Men of Valor to get on their posts and put up their dukes and let’s fight for our house.”
The crowd exploded into cheers.
Local pastors echoed those sentiments. “Every man who commits to fight must prepare himself to adjust when the initial fight plan begins to erode,” said Johnny Parker, director of men’s ministry at First Baptist Church of Glenarden.
Those themes resonated with Chris Richardson, 41, an author and host of an Internet broadcast called “Real Talk,” who attended the conference. “We have a crisis at hand in terms of really dealing with issues,” he said. “This place is a safe zone where men can come and address real issues.”