It’s summer, a time when youth enjoy nice weather and outdoor activities. It’s also a time when we hear about tragic events or conflicts in communities involving teenagers. Change Makers Academy (CMA) seeks to guide today’s minority males into a better future.
A community-driven youth empowerment platform, CMA uses social issues as its catalyst in an effort to help educate young minority males and give them an outlet they can plug into. Youth Pastors Dwanye Stewart and Robert Stephens founded Change Makers Academy, which launched its first “G’s to Gents” initiative in June.
Their vision is to immerse 50 at-risk middle and high school males throughout South Florida into a dynamic culture-shifting dialogue and environment to help them ascend from the “gangster” mindset of how they perceive themselves into a “gentleman’s paradigm of limitless possibilities.” The program was held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Saturday in June in Miramar.
“We expect each G’s to Gents participant to gain insight on the startling realities of inner-city males nationwide within a local South Florida context,” said Stewart. Discussions were designed to allow students to “think critically about issues that plague their peers and families, identify opportunities, and strategically position themselves for the change they will become within their communities. Our hope is for long-term effects to take place in order to break the cycle of the negative statistics representative of African Americans and other minority groups,” he said.
He pointed to the following research he said shows at-risk youth disproportionately consist of African Americans, particularly African American males.
- Nationally, African American male students in grades K-12 are nearly 2.5 times more likely to be suspended from school as white students.
- The twelfth-grade reading scores of African American males were significantly lower than those for men and women across every other racial and ethnic group.
- The majority of the 2.3 million people incarcerated in U.S. prisons and jails are people of color.
“It seems like almost daily, minority youth are featured in increasingly disheartening news stories,” added Stephens. “We envision young men completing the G’s to Gents program with stronger self-worth and a clearer path for success to beat the statistics that have been working against them for decades.”
Tracy Martin speaks
The father of Trayvon Martin, who, at 17 years old, was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, in Sanford, Florida, Traci Martin, spoke to the youth during a June 18 session of G’s to Gents. Martin, founder of the Trayvon Martin Foundation, emphasized to the group the importance of being a student first and then an athlete rather than just an athlete. “Other ethnic groups are afraid of our masculinity, but not afraid of our intelligence,” said Martin. “We must help our youth transition; today’s generation is missing out of the younger generation lives.” Martin shared with the youth how he sees himself in them and that it’s up to the adults to protect our youth and help them with their education. “It’s our job to instill things in you guys and to prepare you for the future,” said Martin.
He also touched on how society often views minorities as uneducated, underprivileged, residing in the ghetto and amounting to nothing. Overall, Martin concluded the discussion with the group of boys with key nuggets pertaining to education, setting goals, learning about other cultures and contributing to make society better.
Interacting with law enforcement
Officer Brandon McKoy of the Broward Sheriff’s Office, was among the presenters on their June 11th session. Focused on “changing the narrative and creating new stereotypes,” they began the day with a reading of current events, which included startling statistics regarding minority males. McKoy then led the youth in a session that explored best practices for interactions with law enforcement followed by a discussion on how they can develop new stereotypes through their behaviors. It ended in prayer for each of the boys’ safety and well-being.
Dwayne Stewart shared the overall purpose of this new initiative. “We want to have an annual event where it impacts middle and high school males,” stated Stewart, “and connect young men with community leaders so they can see themselves in someone else.”
A need in the community
From the planning for G’s to Gents and the response they’ve received, Stephens said, “It confirmed that there is a need for a program such as this in our community today.”
So what sets Change Makers Academy apart from other programs? “The main thing that sets us apart is experience and what young men are dealing with in the community,” said Stephens, who has lived in Miami Gardens for over 10 years and has watched the crime rate on the rise. He also has seen the dropout rate within the school system. He believes God has called him and Stewart to serve the young people. They just want to serve the young people and stir them into the right direction to become change makers.
The strength of the program is two-fold. Both Stephens and Stewart are youth pastors and work in higher education. They want to emphasize more of a focus on change. Lastly, Robert shared that he wants the boys to understand that no matter what they have in mind, they can accomplish it.
For more information about Change Makers Academy, contact Robert Stephens or Dwanye Stewart at [email protected]
Tyrone Hall is a recent graduate of Florida International University and a freelance writer. He can be reached at [email protected]