The conclusion of the inaugural class of the Men in the Making program culminated with a rite of passage ceremony held at the Mahaffey Theater June 18.
BY LAURA MULROONEY, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – Imagine a program that teaches young men important life skills without judgment of who they are or where they come from.
A program where young black men look up to, respect and build positive relationships with local authorities and community entrepreneurs.
This program exists.
Men in the Making is a progressive initiative focusing on role modeling and life skills to increase minority male success ages 8-18 from the cradle to college.
Men in the Making is an intervention-based program that creates opportunities for hope in an environment where 80 percent of the participants come from single parent homes.
Mentors consist of pastors, coaches and local police officers that help to reduce the ever so common 21st century digital gaming and social media disconnect that exacerbates illiteracy and poverty, according to Kenny Irby, president and founder of Men in the Making and Community Intervention director for the City of St. Petersburg.
The role models create long lasting and meaningful relationships, while encouraging the young men to maintain relationships with their biological fathers. The mentors are in place to discourage the young men from making the same mistakes they did as youths.
“We try to teach them how to be gentlemen and make right choices…we want to show these men that there are real people out there with real jobs and that before they know it they’ll be at the age to step into these jobs. What we want them to avoid is making decisions that would eliminate them from the probability of doing these jobs,” said St. Petersburg’s Assistant Police Chief and mentor Luke Williams.
Life skills range from knowing how to tie a tie, diffusing disagreements verbally and with debate skills instead of violence, as well as dining etiquette, how to carry themselves with confidence in public and even life-saving skills such as the Heimlich maneuver.
Full group meetings take place the first Saturday of every month at St. Petersburg College Midtown campus from 8:30- 3 p.m. Full group meetings compliment small group and one on one mentorship activities.
These meetings consist of academic enrichment courses and once in a lifetime experiences. This past year mentees participated in a day at the police academy where they were able to meet and see the inner workings of the St. Petersburg Police Department’s boat patrol, K-9 units and the mounted horse patrol.
Bayflite, St. Petersburg’s emergency helicopter services for critically ill and injured patients who need immediate specialized care, made a special appearance, allowing the young men to meet the pilots and crew.
Irby and his wife Karen have been involved in community outreach for 33 years. They established their first Men and Women in the Making in Michigan and have since used that youth outreach ministry model to establish similar programs in New York and Florida.
“We provide resources and opportunities for these kids who are left up to their own devices,” said Irby. “This is a grassroots effort with law enforcement who have seen the value in their work, who have made a commitment to each other and the young men we’ve had the privilege of helping.”
Participants are most commonly referred to the program via interagency agreements, the Juvenile Welfare Board, “mama referrals” and peer referrals, according to Irby.
Both Irby and Williams believe that Men in the Making pays dividends not just to the boys and teens involved, but also to the volunteers, parents and community. By merely changing the young men’s outlook, they can create a viable community and an understanding that this city is going to be theirs at any moment.
On June 18, Men in the Making program participants went through a rite of passage ceremony held at the Mahaffey Theater. Dressed in tuxedos, these young men rubbed elbows with politicians, television personalities and community leaders.
More volunteers are needed for the expanding program; rigorous background checks and reviews are required for all mentors.
Further information can be found at meninthemaking.org or on Facebook at meninthemakingrightchoices
Rumor has it, a Women in the Making program is expected to launch in the near future.