In a nondescript building tucked on the city’s Northside, at-risk school-age boys from all five districts serving Wilmington took their seats.
Elementary to high school ages, some kids fidgeted and others sat still, but all seemed to be aware of why they were there.
The Raising Kings Conference — hosted by One Village Alliance and sponsored by Boost 26, a collaboration among the five school districts to provide support services to vulnerable teens, as well as Jobs For Delaware Graduates and Delaware Humanities — focused on addressing Black male mental health, gun violence and the need for more positive male involvement in young people’s lives.
For four hours, the students sat quietly while guest speakers and panels of Black men spoke about finding opportunities through careers, entrepreneurship and determination. There was no disruptive behavior, no raised voices, and no rebellious posturing.
Under the supervision of men from their own communities, these at-risk boys were just kids.
A narrative that leads many to prison or early death
The Raising Kings conference is not just an annual event, but a call to action for mentors from in and around the students’ neighborhoods to get involved in their community so that it’s not just schools or a local organization showing up, said Dorrell Green, this year’s chair of the Raising Kings committee.
Green is also the superintendent of the Red Clay Consolidated School District, the largest school district in the state.
With the presence of men and women from their local area, Green said the impact of community support could be pivotal, not just for the boys who participate, but also for the communities they come from. He said these endeavors are part of a larger effort to change a narrative — a narrative that leads many Black boys and men to one or two places: prison or early death.
With the event’s goal of changing attitudes through community support, it was important young people in the audience see themselves reflected in the men on the stage, Green said. Putting boys in proximity to men who present an counter image to a common and negative characterization of Black men allows them to “see people who look like them actually doing the things that they dream about,” Green said.
One of those men was the program’s keynote speaker, 24-year-old Armani Coleman, an investor and owner of several businesses. The serial entrepreneur once was a student at Warner Elementary.
Coleman recounted how he was able to create his success, without formal education, by using his innate curiosity, information he researched online, and YouTube videos to learn how to make money trading stocks, acquire a vending machine business and build his business portfolio, all by using his cell phone.
Like Coleman, many guests on the conference’s two panels grew up in similar circumstances to the kids in attendance — and that seemed to make a connection. During one question and answer session, a student asked the panel how to stay passionate after you’ve lost enthusiasm.
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Ron “Chief The Truth” Green, founder of clothing brand HellaBlack HellaProud responded by advising that they remember what initially excited them to act and to rely on a plan rather than emotions. “If you find yourself feeling a little less motivated than you were, that’s where you can always find your strength in knowing that you have a plan for success. Don’t just rely on yourself and your feelings. Your feelings will lie to you,” said Green.
The advice prompted a loud applause from the room.
Raising Kings throughout Delaware
After a lunch provided by Chick-fil-A, conference participants broke into smaller groups for mentoring sessions with men from the panel.
A restaurateur, a baker, a filmmaker, clothing brand designers and more — Black men who rose above the circumstances of their youth to become game changers in their careers were present as role models to discuss topics such as conflict resolution, politics and stress management with the young men.
Green said the Raising Kings conference is about allowing young men to experience community no matter which side of town they grew up on or which school they attend.
It’s something he wants to see enacted throughout Delaware.
“[T]o have a positive collective experience that was full of hope, full of optimism, full of promise, and more importantly, full of energy,” Green said. “[That’s something] we’re going to continue to take forward as we look at establishing Raising Kings chapters.”
Reporter Anitra Johnson’s work focuses on individuals and organizations working to change, improve, and give back to communities. Do you know someone who has found ways to connect with their community? Contact her at email@example.com or 302-379-5786 with tips and story ideas. Follow her on her Facebook page.
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