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“Brother’s Keeper is not only about personal success, but the success of our fellow brothers as well. This program could be the one that helps a young boy today be a great man of tomorrow.”

Those lines earned Matthew Stokes, a fifth-grade student at Edisto Elementary, recognition as the winner of the essay contest during the 2nd annual Brother’s Keeper Jr. Beautillion.

Stokes said Brother’s Keeper is more than a club. “We are a group of brothers who are gaining the courage to change our world,” he said.

The Jr. Beautillion is the culmination of a nine-month program celebrating the boys’ rites of passage.

The theme of the event was: “A Night of Excellence through Manhood, Achievement & Transcendence.” The progress of the students ranging from third to fifth grade was highlighted during the evening.

The Brother’s Keepers Program at Edisto Elementary is a “league of extraordinary gentleman” spearheaded by Rashad Anderson.

Citing several educational reports, Anderson said studies and statistics echo that males experience school quite differently than females.

He said the U.S. Department of Education and the Schott Foundation report that boys account for 71 percent of all school suspensions, with 59 percent of black boys and 42 percent of Hispanic boys being suspended.

Boys are also five times more likely than girls to be classified as hyperactive and 30 percent more likely to flunk out or drop out of school, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, Anderson noted.

“The BK program is about giving back and helping support extraordinary young men that will not only defy statistics themselves but ultimately help reverse these same trends in their communities and abroad when they grow up,” he said.

A graduate of S.C. State, Anderson is currently a doctoral student at the University of South Carolina.

He said his vision is to expand the program to all schools in the Orangeburg area “so the systemic issues plaguing minority males in public schools can begin a new trajectory.”

“We have heard the statistics for years; now it’s time to reverse those numbers directly through the mentorship of the Brothers’ Keepers Program,” Anderson said.

Kahaya Jackson said the program has had a profound impact on her nephew, Teon.

“He is a more confident and well-rounded young boy,” she said.

The club provides male bonding and a closeness that he wouldn’t get otherwise, Jackson said.

“His midterms grades improved dramatically, and we believe that his participation in Brother’s Keeper was a turnaround point for him,” she said.

“My sister (Tiana Jackson) and I are trying to raise our sons to the best of our ability; however, when there is male mentorship, there is a level of accountability young boys are awakened to that women can’t provide,” she said.

This year, 26 gentlemen were inducted into the program and partnered with the Beta Delta Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. to include a mentoring component in which members of the local fraternity visited the school weekly to meet with their mentees, tutoring them, character building with them and providing support to them.

Calvin Brown and Ronald Williams, graduating seniors at South Carolina State University, were presented with handmade awards of gratitude for their mentorship. Both men, along with Brandon Gilliam and Omari Bennett, are members of the Beta Delta Chapter on campus and served as ‘big brothers’ to the BK participants.

Brown didn’t let the absence of his father in the home be an excuse for him not to succeed.

“My father was not around to teach me the lessons of manhood,” he said.

Despite that fact, the mechanical engineering and technology major said, “Being able to teach these young men what I could was an honor.”

Williams, a music education major, said being a mentor was humbling.

“It was a very rewarding experience. The brothers of Alpha Phi Alpha are honored to be a part of their development and we are excited about their futures,” he said.

The Brothers’ Keepers Program has expanded to three other schools in the district including Lockett Elementary and Hunter-Kinard-Tyler Elementary.

Anderson said the Edisto Elementary cohort of Brothers’ Keepers has grown not only in size, but also in the quality of services rendered.

The Brother’s Keepers Program recently partnered with the Call Me MISTER Program on the campus of S.C. State for the inaugural Brother’s Keepers Leadership Summit. More than 150 young males attended the day-long event that focused on the club’s nine core tenets: manhood, good behavior, conflict management, unity, education, oral communication, self-esteem, servant leadership and cultural diversity.

“There are so many narratives that tell young black males that there is nothing positive in store for them, but I would encourage them to not believe in the hype,” said Winston Holton, field coordinator for the Eugene T. Moore School of Education’s Call Me MISTER Program at Clemson University.

As the keynote speaker for the event, Holton focused on the value of education and the value of quality relationships.

Referencing two African proverbs: “Tell me who’s your friend and I’ll tell you who you are” and “It takes a village to raise a child,” Holton said, “We are dealing with the realities of a sick village and we are literally trying to inoculate a lot of our young people against those toxic environments.”

“Mr. Anderson and so many others are in the trenches trying to provide them with a different understanding and a different experience,” he added.

He said every child has a genius and “its up to educators and other adults to connect to that ability and empower them to manifest it.”

Contact the writer: 803-533-5552

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