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Special ‘Institute’ session asks, ‘What is a black man?’

    African-American young men – several of them – took home a few life lessons after attending The Black Man Can Institute at the Juvenile Intervention & Faith-based Followup (JIFF) last Saturday (March 15th).

    The Institute was a one-day series of workshops that focused on different ways to uplift, empower and inspire young men of color.

    "We have a vision to bring the Institute to every city in America and be a catalyst for change in the life of a young man," said Brandon Frame, the Institute's founder. "In partnering with R.L. Thompson and Community Service, Inc., we had the amazing opportunity to complete that purpose."

    Launched in March 2003, JIFF, which is located at 254 South Lauderdale St., has provided intervention services for more than 500 court-referred youth. According to its website, the recidivism rate is under 35 percent.

    At Saturday's Institute, workshops included Building Brotherhood, Self-Empowerment, and Cultural Readjustment. All were geared toward one question: "What is a black man?"

    "Born with two strikes."

    "Beating the statistics."

    "Owning up to your mistake."

    Those were just a few of the responses from the participants who ranged from 6th grade to 12th grade.

    During the Self-Empowerment workshop, the presentation came via the spoken-word duo of Tilmon Keaton and Ryan Carson. They challenged the students to put their ideas of finishing high school and becoming entrepreneurs into action.

    "You must change your mentality to change your reality," said Keaton.

    One of the highlights of the day was the Cultural Readjustment workshop by Dr. J.R. Futrell. His method of tackling gang life from the inside offered everyone a new perspective on gang culture. Futrell, a community activist, university professor and PhD recipient, said he is a gang member. He encouraged the young men to change the negative culture of gang life by changing themselves.

    "It's not about joining or not joining gangs, it's about making better choices," he said.

    "You act like you created those colors. God created those colors and all of these organizations are based off of religious principles."

    The Institute also included workshops from George Welch and Kevin Parker. As part of the Dress for Success initiative, the young men were given free neckties, along with lessons from the presenters on how to tie them. The keynote address came from best-selling author George Olokun, who said dreams and ambitions are nothing without action.

    During an exchange, one of the participants put a question to Frame: "Do you feel you accomplished your goal?"

    Said Frame: "I absolutely felt as if we accomplished our goal. The young men and mentors for the day all walked away with a new outlook on a variety of things. We covered topics such as the African Diaspora, Cultural Readjustment, Code Switching, Brotherhood and more. At the end, the remarks from the young men affirmed that we accomplished our goal."

    (Kenneth Worles is the Digital Content Manager for The New Tri-State Defender and CEO of 3i Design Group. Follow Kenneth Worles on Twitter at @KennethWorles)

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