Graduates with honor

The boys attended program sessions two days a week for 23 weeks.
WARREN -- Dan Herron, 13, learned about resisting peer pressure and getting along with others.
Dan and 14 other East Middle School seventh- and eighth-graders graduated Wednesday from the Young Black Men Association's Young Men New Focus Leadership Development program.
"I think we did a real good job," Dan, a seventh-grader, said. "We talked a lot about peer pressure and how we should treat other people."
When a friend approaches him, suggesting he do something he's not willing to do, for example, Dan, a son of David and Brenda Herron, learned the best defense is to just walk away.
Wil Harris, director of the Young Black Men Association, said the 23-week program was possible through a state wellness block grant.
"In this first session, we focused on fostering relationships -- to let them know there's someone here that cares about you," Harris said. "They're more likely to listen if you have a relationship."
Choosing the participants
East Middle School teachers identified pupils for the program and they were selected with their parents' permission. The group started with 21 participants and was whittled to 15.
"These young men come from good families," Harris said. "We're not trying to take the place of their families."
The boys attended program sessions two days per week after school addressing personal development, self-esteem, pregnancy prevention, resisting peer pressure, substance-abuse resistance, conflict resolution and other issues facing young people.
Harris said the group hopes to continue the program, maintaining the core group and adding others.
"We're already looking at an enrichment program with some of the young men this summer," he said.
That program may involve visits to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland and other museums they may not otherwise have an opportunity to see.
Looking ahead
"When we get into the high school arena, we'll have a different curriculum with more advanced teaching," Harris said. "We've just scratched the surface with self-esteem."
Program participants include Betty English, Warren City Schools superintendent; Don Emerson, director of Trumbull Metropolitan Housing Authority; Mahoning County Planned Parenthood, state Sen. Tim Ryan; Tony Perrone, director of YouthBuild Trumbull County; and Linda Casey, an East Middle School teacher.
"This is something we saw a need for," Harris said. "Mentoring is something very important and we didn't see enough people stepping up to the plate."
By building relationships with the young men early, they'll be more likely to get in touch with them when they encounter difficult issues in their lives, he said.
"The relationship piece is important," Harris said. "If there's a relationship there, they'll feel comfortable with me and my staff and trust our judgment."

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