October , 2018

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Mentors ‘checkered’ past used to save lives

By Chinta Strausberg

Just elected alderman of the Fourth Ward in Harvey, Lamont Brown not only has a mission to help physically clean up that scandal-ridden town but also to help save black boys 12-18 with a free Boot Camp program designed to develop black boys into strong, positive men.

Brown, who will be sworn in on May 11, 2015, 7 p.m., City Hall, 15340 So. Broadway, works closely with Mack McGhee, director and founder of “The Manhood Development Camp” which McGhee began earlier this year along with William C. Gray, Jr., Assistant Director, and Stanley Muhammad, Brotherhood director.

Referring to the youth they mentor, McGhee said, “I got tired of turning on the news hearing what was going on with young men. I come from juvenile justice, and I work in education now. A lot of them do not have strong father figures of male role models.” Currently, he has about eight male volunteer mentors for the Boot Camp program.

“The goal of his program is to “try to support single parents and at-risk young men in urban areas. We have Brotherhood circles and have discussions about critical thinking, anger management and self-esteem,” McGhee told this reporter. “We want them to understand the importance of giving back to the community.”

The youngest of four, McGhee grew up in a single home caused by his parents separating when he was 11. “I was angry. I went through some anger management issues throughout adolescence. I looked up to my father. One day he was home, the next day he was not. I didn’t understand what was happening.”

McGhee said he uses his personal experiences to help black boys understand how “we went through trials, tribulations, pitfalls because young people don’t believe we went through” these social problems but turned their lives around.

Brown said, “We have been involved with Restorative Justice and other mentor programs, but this one has brought a group of men together to help teach them critical thinking skills, how to deal under pressure, conflict resolution and to teach them how to open up. We want them to see a group of men…a community of men effort.”

This June, McGhee wants to take the youth to the Birmingham’s Civil Rights Institute. So far he has raised $5,000 but hopes to raise more and is looking for more mentors.

Brown said past experiences are key in relating to the youth. “I come from a checkered past having been arrested several times hanging around the wrong people and making unhealthy choices due to the hardships of his family,” Brown stated. “I’ve been arrested several times.

“I was fortunate enough to make a decision to separate myself from those people because I believe people are like elevators. They will take up or down.  I was able to separate myself from those who were consistently taking me down. When a young man hears our stories, they can relate.”

“I share with them how when I was in junior high school, I dealt with the fact that my mother was addicted to cocaine. Not only did I know about it and my sisters knew but also the community started to become aware of it and I did not want to go to school. I took a lot of anger with me to school and caused be to be subordinate and defiant in school.  A lot of young men could relate to that…which deters getting the education they need.”

“We have the other men who are volunteering to be a part of the program who are share their stories. Some have similar backgrounds and others that may not have backgrounds not as checkered but they had to make critical decisions that would separate themselves from hanging around certain people….”

Referring to his mother, Brown said, “The drug addiction was a major contributor to her divorcing my stepfather during my high school years. That was a challenge. She has been drug free for over 20-year now.

“My stepfather was a part of my life up to the eighth grade. I didn’t miss having a father in my home for those other years, but they gave me hope. I wasn’t obedient and listening to them 100 percent of the time but they did give me hope,” said Brown.

“The pressures of the street life seemed like they were winning which is why we did the Manhood Development Camp because we wanted to bombard tem with our stories, our testimonies, with these life skills because we understand that we are battling for mind space. We want to override” that scenario.

The Boot Camp meets every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12 noon at Leo High School, 7901 So. Sangamon. “We share different things with the youth,” Brown said. “They have 45 minutes to an hour sessions. They share their challenges that have been difficult to overcome or how they perceive life growing up as a black man in Chicago.”

There is a guest speaker at 10 a.m., a break at 11 a.m. followed by sports, lunch and a strong message.  “We are giving them the opportunity to hear from them to hear their challenges and we give them solutions, life lessons, deeper insights and help them to realize the root of certain problems,” explained Brown.

“It has been a pleasure doing it. We strongly believe to succeed in life; you have to separate the weeds in your life. We also believe in order to be a man you have to see a man. We have to lead by example rather than explanation.,” he said explaining they share their personal problems so that the youth can see how they have turned their lives around.

Asked how are they funded, he said by individuals. You can access his website by clicking on www.Mackmcghee.com . It goes to a Gofundme link.

“So far, we have more than $5,000 from contributions, but we are looking to do more. There are a couple of communities requesting for our help. We are looking for more supporters. No contributions are too large or too small.”

The troubled youth was just one factor why Brown ran for office. “I ran for office because after attending City Council meetings over the last three-and-a-half year, I noticed there was not strong leadership and some of the decisions made were not in the best interest of the community. As a motivational speaker, life coach and mentor for the youth for several years, I decided to be part of the solution….”

As alderman, Brown said, “Initially, I was going to make sure to clean up the Fourth Ward. The city is in great need of being cleaned up. There is a lot of trash in the vacant lots that have been neglected as seen by the tall grass. People are using these lots and alleys as dumping sites. There are rodents and even a deer in the back of one of our” homes “Cleaning up the ward is at the top of my list over the next 120-days.”

He’s facing even bigger problems like over 300-abandoned housing. “There are 3300 registered voters in my ward but over 300 abandoned housing in my ward alone,” Brown said.

“For the last eight-years, the ward has been neglected. There has been no visibility, accountability or accessibility to leadership,” he said vowing to change that scenario. Working with the Boot Camp is just one of his missions to help save black boys and the city of Harvey.

For further information, call 1.888.624.4333 or #getoffthesidelines.

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: Chintabernie@aol.com.

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