This is the first in a four-part series of columns by Bill Renje dedicated to empowering young, black men.
I’ve had a social conscience and deep interest in the societal ills that plague us, going back to my undergraduate days at the University of Illinois twenty years ago.
Politically, I started on the Left but have drifted to the Right throughout my 30s into my early 40s. I’ve grown spiritually since becoming a Christian at the age of 24 and now, in full-time ministry, I try to respectfully fuse my spiritual, political and social beliefs in discerning how best to invest in young people.
In particular, my heart is to pour into young men from the lower end of the socio-economic scale to help better equip them. While that can be, and is, young men of all racial backgrounds, in South Metro Atlanta, that predominantly means young black men.
While I don’t believe that anybody or any political party or ideology has all the answers to what is, or isn’t, the right solution, I do believe in my heart that change starts from within individual hearts and minds rather than top down government programs.
When you impact hearts and minds, you can impact whole communities. And when you impact communities, you can impact an entire nation.
All of which is why I love ministering and mentoring in Henry County high school where half the student population is eligible for the free lunch program and almost twice as many students have IEPs (Individual Education Plan) than the public high school average in Henry County.
I love ministering there because there is an army of coaches, teachers and administrators going way above and beyond their job description in showing love while emptying themselves out into these kids.
From clubs like the Fellowship to Christian Athletes to Men of Distinction to after-school tutoring programs, there is an abundance of support from educators who legitimately care about the future of these students.
One of these teachers and role models is Malik Douglas, a teacher who also leads Men of Distinction, where at-risk youth meet every morning for the first half hour of school. Many of these kids have already been in trouble with the law, but have committed to bettering themselves.
On Wednesday, they all wear a button-downed shirt and tie to school. And as for the above and beyond part, Mr. Douglas, on his own time, went to the store manager of a local department store, who said, “You bring them in and I’ll hire them”. So these kids have an opportunity for an entry level job where they can develop a sense of responsibility, a work ethic and life skills that we all learned in our first jobs which helped us to springboard to bigger and better things.
I asked him about the root cause of some of what these students face as well as some possible solutions.
“The majority of the students that I have encountered have a fear of achievement and have developed an attitude of entitlement,” Douglas said. “This entitlement has led to many students believing that it is easier to receive things in life, instead of working hard and maintaining a high standard of hard work.
“To combat this problem, it takes an educator to have commitment, dedication, an encouraging spirit and inner and outward love for the student. In addition to those characteristics, we as adults need to expose the students to the greater good of the world and ensure that they are not confined to their own community, which allows them to expand their view of society and the world.”
Mr. Douglas has found what I have found — that these kids are looking for genuine love and if you can show that to them by getting engaged in their lives, you can have an impact on positively altering the course of their future.
Another example of a black man of distinction is Arthur Hawkins.
“Hawk” is a 61-year-old volunteer that looks like he could walk on to the football field today and start at linebacker. The grandson of a sharecropper, Hawk grew up without a father in Jim Crow North Carolina. He eventually went on to a distinguished career as a drill sergeant, principal, teacher and coach.
His ministry centers on helping young men find and fulfill God’s plan and purpose for their lives because, in the words of Frederick Douglas, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”
Bill is on staff with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and a Deacon at Eagles Landing FBC in McDonough, GA. He lives in Locust Grove with his wife Amy and their three children. You can follow Bill on Facebook, Twitter @billrenje and learn more about him at his website www.achosenbullet.com