Collinwood High School student learns that "We can do anything" at symposium
DeAndrew Wilson, a ninth-grader at Collinwood High School looked awestruck. Along with more than 150 boys from CMSD’s Closing the Achievement Gap (CTAG) program, Wilson attended a symposium on Sept. 13 at Martin Luther King Jr. High School to discuss the challenges of growing into men.
He and other boys were in the company of men, all of whom were alumni of all-male Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. The men stressed principles of success, and success starts with confidence.
Wilson left with plenty of the latter. “I learned we can do anything,” he said.
He learned that lesson and more. Speaker after speaker added a brick to the foundation of each boy, but the man who offered Wilson the most useful advice was keynote speaker Basheer Jones, an author, poet, radio personality, political activist and MLK alum.
Jones held a candid, intimate 30-minute conversation about what awaits boys of color in the world after high school. He opened his talk with one simple question: “Do you know who you are and where you came from?”
His question, however, was the silken thread that held together the four-hour symposium, which CTAG, a federal dropout prevention program, sponsored.
Jones and other male guests, including Rev. Otis Moss Jr., local businessman Jonathan Tyes and Dr. Corttrell Kinney, a graduate of John Hay High School, kept reminding the boys how important it is to have a strong male influence in their lives.
No one did the reminding better than Jones.
“How he told his story related to me,” said Wilson, one of nine Collinwood students at the symposium. “So, I know it related to everybody else there.”
Wilson, 15, said he listened closely as Jones shared how his life had been absent a father-figure during his youth. But somewhere between adolescence and adulthood, Jones said he found that male influence – an adult male who taught him what manhood was about, a surrogate father of sorts.
While Jones applauded the role mothers play in a boy’s life, he pointed out that a woman can’t teach a boy to be a man.
“That’s like trying to teach you to be a lion,” Jones said. “I ain’t no lion; I can’t teach you how to be a lion. You need to learn how to be a lion from a lion.”
It’s a message Wilson can’t forget. It’s a message Jones didn’t want any of the boys to forget. As CTAG students, they are on the brink of manhood. They can make bad choices or they can make good choices, Jones said.
Thanks to positive role models, he made good choices.
“Thinking about it, I sometimes wonder how I can change this from a bad thing to a good thing,” Wilson said. “Basheer talked about how he changed it from a bad thing to a good thing. That’s really how I was able to comprehend and understand where he was coming from.”