Mentors help Detroit boys map their future

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Ronald Norwood could not read until eighth grade.

That was when he finally was placed in special education, and eventually, his struggles with reading ended.

He entered Osborn High School and learned about a program that molds youth into future leaders, focused on preventing violence and substance abuse.

Norwood was the first youth to graduate from the Neighborhood Service Organization Youth Initiatives Project. Now a youth organizer for the project, he paid it forward Friday morning by mentoring young men at the YIP’s Male Empowerment Breakfast at Durfee Elementary-Middle School.

Norwood, who has graduated from college, was one of about 20 mentors at the breakfast, titled “Young Men Changing the Future,” who broke bread with male students from Durfee and Osborn.

“I meet with students at Central High School and Durfee once a week and we discuss different leadership tactics and campaigns,” said Norwood, 24. “We’re currently working on an action plan to improve public education in Detroit. Students began a petition and they plan to take it to the Detroit Board of Education and to legislators.”

Durfee sixth-graders Emarion Williams and DaJuan Pratt, both 11, praised Norwood as a mentor and talked about what they learned from him.

“I want things to change in the future because people are getting hurt every day and it’s not right,” said Emarion. “I want it to be fair for everyone.”

DaJuan said he wanted to help others and follow in the footsteps of President Barack Obama and Martin Luther King Jr.

“Dr. King worked to try to change segregation and wanted blacks and whites to come together,” he said. “We also want to work for change.”

Devin Dawson, 16, sat at a table next to a mentor and asked him how he knew what he wanted to be before he went to college.

“I want to go to college and I have a first choice and a second option but I know if won’t be easy,” said Devin, a 10th grader at Osborn. “I want to be an engineer, and for my second option, I want to own my own business.”

The mentor he was discussing options with was Damian C. Mitchell, a U.S. Selective Service board member and director of the Putting Youth First Committee. He is a graduate of Lawrence Tech University.

“I went to college with two things I wanted to do — be a politician and return to school to teach students,” he said. “I want to make education fun again and encourage students to want to learn and gain a better life.”

Frank McGhee, program director for the NSO YIP, said youth were being honored at the breakfast, which the group sponsors about every three months, for successfully completing their leadership training.

“This gives them an opportunity to meet the mentors and discuss issues with male role models who are successful,” he said.

Rodney Cox did not wear his police uniform to the breakfast, instead opting for a suit and tie.

Cox is the captain of major crimes for the Detroit Police Department. He was among the many mentors offering advice to the young men at his table.

“I believe the future of our youth is vitally important to the future of our society,” he said. “I think it is important that as they embark on life’s journeys that they have role models as examples of what they can achieve, and what they can believe in, whatever career path they choose to pursue.

“It is important that as men, we take the time and opportunity to guide, direct and inspire them to do great things and positively impact the culture of society.”

Cox said his father was his mentor.

“He worked for Ford Motor Company for 39 years and he was a dedicated family man,” he said. “He stressed the importance of education and success. He instilled those values in me, and I, in turn, instill those same values in my children, realizing there are others in our community who need those same values.”

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