On this day, Father’s Day, tens of thousands of young black boys in Central Brooklyn have no idea what it truly means to have a father in their lives.
A lot of them have no idea what it even means to be a father, much less understand what it means to be a man.
But fortunately, because of an organization called Chionesu Bakari, a lot of them are now learning.
Founded in 2006, Chionesu Bakari, which means “Guiding Light of Noble Promise,” has guided more than 200 young black males, ages 8-18, from East New York, Brownsville, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights and many other neighborhoods, through a rites of passage program that builds self esteem, teaches critical life skills about manhood and aims to eradicate the historical misconceptions of black males.
To date, the program, located at 859 Hendrix Street in East New York, boasts a 100 percent high school graduation rate of its young male participants, with 96 percent of those graduates currently enrolled in college.
This is no small feat considering that for African-American and Hispanic male students, New York has the worst high school graduation rate in the country, according to a 2012 study by the Schott Foundation for Public Education.
In fact, the researchers say, a meager 37 percent of black and Hispanic boys are graduating from New York high schools. That number is even lower in Central Brooklyn.
The program is transforming the minds and lives of young men who, under any other circumstances, believe their future extends no further than the bleak 7 or 8 block radius of their ‘hood. But the young men’s group is knocking down that type of thinking, turning that point of view inside-out.
“One of the critical things that helped to further them is just something as simple as getting outside of their environment, traveling, seeing a wider perspective,” said Horace Moore, Chionesu Bakari’s founder.
Moore—a former public school teacher who was born and raised in Brownsville—and his three program leaders make it a point to take the boys on regular trips around parts of the country they normally would never visit, as a compulsory part of their “training.” But these aren’t your regular field trips where the organization’s leaders plan and the young boys follow.
Moore challenges them with planning their own trips. They must research the location, and do a feasibility study by figuring out how much it would cost to make the trip, from A-Z. Then, they must pitch their idea in the form of a presentation, where often more than one group may compete for the winning trip.
But even after a trip has been decided, that’s only the beginning: Then, they must all fundraise.
“I want to teach them the importance of conceiving an idea, then researching, planning and carrying it through,” said Moore. “It’s important that they understand that almost anything they envision, they can achieve with proper research and planning.”
Every year in June, CB holds a rites of passage and awards gala where the young men are honored for their growth in the organization and personal and academic achievements.
Similar to high school, the program has four grades, spread out over ten years, based on age, knowledge and maturity: Paupers, Warriors, Princes and the Rites of Passage component. The program’s ultimate goal is to increase the representation of young black men in higher education and professional endeavors.
The young men meet after school and on weekends, and the parents are also required to participate, as parents play a critical role in reinforcing the program’s value in the child’s mind. CB provides training, and workshops for the parents are held once a week during the summer and once a month during the school year.
Many of the boys literally grow up in the organization, become a part of an extended family and learn to see themselves in an entirely different light than their peers. Where this distinction can often cause conflict between the young participants and their peers on the outside, they are prepared for it and are taught to see it as an opportunity to bring more young men on board.
“The young men take to the organization because it provides them a safe place to share. They know that every time they show up, someone will be there for them, someone they can depend on,” said Moore.
But he added that even with the consistent and overwhelming success of the program, getting people to “be there” for the boys has been a challenge.
“At the last gala where we were honoring the young men, not one elected official we invited showed up. That was a little disturbing for me,” said Moore. “We’ve reached out to the politicians and said, ‘Hey, we don’t want anything from you, except to show up. You keep saying that we need to do something with our young men. And here is a program that is doing something…’
“This generation now is a lot different than when we were growing up. We had a filter, and that filter is not in this generation. Computers are raising our kids; it’s a challenging time for young people. They’re exposed to so much more, we have no idea…
“Sometimes it’s just coming to talk to the young boys. I need more African-American males who come from different walks of life to come talk to them, just to give them a variety of perspectives, to share their stories. Because we don’t share enough of our stories with young people, we don’t talk to them.
“We want and expect them to know things. But how can we expect them to know, if we don’t tell them?”