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REACHING OUT AND TAKING HANDS, CITIZENS target social ills

Sherman Porterfield has reached out to hundreds of Rock Hill inner-city youths with his nonprofit Operation Help One Another, encouraging them to reach for the stars.

He mentors the youngsters, feeds them pizza or hot dogs at Friday afternoon gatherings and offers rewards for grades and school attendance. And he has taken them on excursions to broaden their horizons -- sporting events, a museum, the Charlotte airport, even a local buffet restaurant.

But many of the troubles these youths face -- especially black males -- are too big for Porterfield to fix with pizza and even the most inspiring words.

Black on black crime, absent or unaccountable parents, low educational achievement, poverty, joblessness. Together, they paint a dismal picture.

"There's a fire in our community, and because there's a fire, we need to yell out as loud as we can," said the impassioned Porterfield, 42. "That's the way we see these issues, these concerns."

Porterfield and other concerned citizens have come together to form the Black Male Summit, a Rock Hill area organization that's targeted at addressing social ills in the African-American community, especially among black men.

Last month, the summit attracted between 150 and 200 youths and adults to a conference on the issue at Clinton Junior College in Rock Hill. Other plans, such as a community forum to discuss solutions, are already in the works.

Statistics tell the story. And it isn't all bad. A portion of black men have made considerable gains in education and employment since the civil rights movement, according to many national studies and statistics. However, the numbers also show that those gains have come alongside steady increases in the number of poor, black men who are imprisoned, jobless, born into single-parent families and dropping out of high school. Those trends came as black women and other groups made gains.

Porterfield, a Rock Hill husband and father who is director of the fledgling summit, wants to bring the African-American community together to look at the problem -- and to find ways to enact positive changes.

"In order for these things to happen, we as African-Americans must first address our own issues," said Porterfield, a mortgage consultant.

"A lot of times, we blame the government, we blame other institutions when really the fact is the problem begins with us ... There's almost a form of housecleaning."

Porterfield established Operation Help One Another as a registered nonprofit in 2002, and said he and his wife, Annette, have largely supported it out of their own pockets.

But he said the Black Male Summit is a related but different effort to get more people involved. "You have to begin to discuss it and have a dialogue," he said.

Their effort has already gotten off to a good start, based on the positive reviews the committee members received from attendees at last month's summit.

Youth respond

Hezekiah Massey, a Northwestern High School assistant principal who brought four students to the event, said black boys often don't see themselves as college-able.

"All of us have to work together to change the mindset of our students," he said. They need to see examples of how their lives could be at that level, Massey said.

"The more you put students in contact with those type of people, the more they can conceptualize themselves as being able to achieve on that level," he said.

Michael Terry, a 16-year-old Northwestern 10th-grade student who attended the event with Massey, said the summit gave him some things to think about.

"It taught me some stuff that I really didn't know," he said. "Being a leader instead of a follower. What does a follower do? They let other people make their choices for them instead of making their own choices. A leader, it's the person who makes their own choices."

G'ruma Smith, 14, a Northwestern ninth-grader, said he attended classes that focused on setting goals and not giving up. Some kids, he said, "give up at an early age."

Both Terry and Smith said they would like to attend college. Smith said he would like to play football, while Terry said he'd like to study computer engineering.

The good news is that many black men are better off today than ever before. The number of black men graduating from college has quadrupled since the 1964 Civil Right Act. And black families with men in the home have median incomes comparable to whites, according to a study by the Washington Post, Harvard University and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But the Kaiser foundation also reports that young African-American men have lower levels of educational achievement and suffer higher rates of poverty and joblessness than young white, Hispanic and Asian men.

There's a need to focus

Chad Guest, manager of Wal-Mart at the Rock Hill Galleria, who attended the summit to learn, said he saw a lot of fathers and sons. "I thought I really gained a broader understanding" of the issues, he said.

Zora Holmes, a summit committee member and a retired math educator at Clinton college and in York, said the group needs to talk about how to restore positive values that she said were once more prevalent in the black community.

"We need to focus on what may be the reason for the problems," Holmes said. "Of course, no one has an absolute answer, because any number of things have brought the communities to the point we're in."

Committee member Derrick Lindsay, managing partner of Showmars Restaurant in the Galleria, said the absence of men in many black families is a problem.

Lindsay, 38, grew up on Green Street, but his father was a strong disciplinarian and role model.

"Nowadays it's the single parent, a female parent, and the age ranges from17 to 27, 28. It's kids having kids and they don't have the background to be better parents," he said.

His uncle, the Rev. Bob Lindsay, also on the committee, has a prison ministry at Kershaw Correctional Facility. "We're losing our adult males in the prison system," Bob Lindsay said.

And he feels society is set up for black men to fail. "I've been stopped several times in my truck," he said, referring to police. "I don't sell any drugs, but I've been stopped."

Rev. Lindsay and Porterfield both said they need to inspire the community to look out for one another, reaching children at a young age before they get into trouble.

"Our jails have enough of our young men incarcerated," Rev. Lindsay said. "We need to make preventive measures."

Porterfield said the next step will be to engage the community in a forum, to be scheduled soon. He and other organizers say they realize the problem is a broad one, but they also hope to see changes.

"I definitely don't want to wait five years for a positive impact," said Derrick Lindsay. "I want to see if we can get a return on our investment quicker."

Porterfield believes that will require the whole community to come together. "If we begin to invest and pay attention to what's going on in our own backyard," Porterfield said, "a lot of this will heal itself."

More information

Operation Help One Another, a nonprofit mentoring program for Rock Hill inner-city youths. Mail to P.O. Box 37371, Rock Hill SC 29732, call 980-4357, e-mail ohelp1@aol.com or visit the Web site, www.operationhelponeanother.org. Donations are accepted.

Black Male Summit, a Rock Hill area committee formed with a mission to restore the African-American family by promoting strong and responsible African-American men. Details, 980-4357, or e-mail blackmalesummitcommittee@yahoo.com.

Here are national statistics about young black men compiled in 2006 by the Washington, D.C.-based Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The information was culled from government sources, such as the U.S. Census, vital statistics and national surveys.

Education level

• African-American men are more likely than Hispanic and American Indian men to graduate from high school, but less likely than white and Asian men. In 2005, 77.4 percent of African-American men ages 18 to 29 had graduated from high school, compared to 60 percent for Hispanics, 67 percent for American Indians, 89 percent for Asians and 85 percent for whites.

• Fewer than 8 percent of African-American men ages 15 to 29 had graduated from college in 2005, compared to 17 percent of whites and 35 percent of Asian men in that age group.

Economic status

• Unemployment for African-American men ages 15 to 29 was 19.5 percent in 2005 -- more than twice the rate for young men of other races. The rate was 8 percent for Hispanic men, 7.9 percent for white men and 7.8 percent for Asian men in that age group.

• More than 20 percent of young African-American men live in poverty, compared to 18 percent of Hispanic, 12 percent of Asian and 10 percent of white men of the same age.

Crime

• Young African-American men are represented in the criminal justice system more than triple the rate of men of other races. In 2005, 10.1 percent of African-American men ages 15 to 29 were in prison, compared to 3.6 percent of Hispanics and 1.5 percent of whites in that age group.

• Homicide is the leading cause of death for young African-American men. The homicide death rate among African-American men per 100,000 population is 84.6 for young men, ages 15 to 24, and 61 for older men, ages 25 to 44. The same death rate is 30 and 17, respectively, for Hispanic men, 9.8 and 4.5, respectively, for Asian men and 5 and 5.1, respectively, for white men.

Here are national statistics about young black men compiled in 2006 by the Washington, D.C.-based Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The information was culled from government sources, such as the U.S. Census, vital statistics and national surveys.

Education level

• African-American men are more likely than Hispanic and American Indian men to graduate from high school, but less likely than white and Asian men. In 2005, 77.4 percent of African-American men ages 18 to 29 had graduated from high school, compared to 60 percent for Hispanics, 67 percent for American Indians, 89 percent for Asians and 85 percent for whites.

• Fewer than 8 percent of African-American men ages 15 to 29 had graduated from college in 2005, compared to 17 percent of whites and 35 percent of Asian men in that age group.

Economic status

• Unemployment for African-American men ages 15 to 29 was 19.5 percent in 2005 -- more than twice the rate for young men of other races. The rate was 8 percent for Hispanic men, 7.9 percent for white men and 7.8 percent for Asian men in that age group.

• More than 20 percent of young African-American men live in poverty, compared to 18 percent of Hispanic, 12 percent of Asian and 10 percent of white men of the same age.

Crime

• Young African-American men are represented in the criminal justice system more than triple the rate of men of other races. In 2005, 10.1 percent of African-American men ages 15 to 29 were in prison, compared to 3.6 percent of Hispanics and 1.5 percent of whites in that age group.

• Homicide is the leading cause of death for young African-American men. The homicide death rate among African-American men per 100,000 population is 84.6 for young men, ages 15 to 24, and 61 for older men, ages 25 to 44. The same death rate is 30 and 17, respectively, for Hispanic men, 9.8 and 4.5, respectively, for Asian men and 5 and 5.1, respectively, for white men.

Here are national statistics about young black men compiled in 2006 by the Washington, D.C.-based Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The information was culled from government sources, such as the U.S. Census, vital statistics and national surveys.

Education level

• African-American men are more likely than Hispanic and American Indian men to graduate from high school, but less likely than white and Asian men. In 2005, 77.4 percent of African-American men ages 18 to 29 had graduated from high school, compared to 60 percent for Hispanics, 67 percent for American Indians, 89 percent for Asians and 85 percent for whites.

• Fewer than 8 percent of African-American men ages 15 to 29 had graduated from college in 2005, compared to 17 percent of whites and 35 percent of Asian men in that age group.

Economic status

• Unemployment for African-American men ages 15 to 29 was 19.5 percent in 2005 -- more than twice the rate for young men of other races. The rate was 8 percent for Hispanic men, 7.9 percent for white men and 7.8 percent for Asian men in that age group.

• More than 20 percent of young African-American men live in poverty, compared to 18 percent of Hispanic, 12 percent of Asian and 10 percent of white men of the same age.

Crime

• Young African-American men are represented in the criminal justice system more than triple the rate of men of other races. In 2005, 10.1 percent of African-American men ages 15 to 29 were in prison, compared to 3.6 percent of Hispanics and 1.5 percent of whites in that age group.

• Homicide is the leading cause of death for young African-American men. The homicide death rate among African-American men per 100,000 population is 84.6 for young men, ages 15 to 24, and 61 for older men, ages 25 to 44. The same death rate is 30 and 17, respectively, for Hispanic men, 9.8 and 4.5, respectively, for Asian men and 5 and 5.1, respectively, for white men.

Here are national statistics about young black men compiled in 2006 by the Washington, D.C.-based Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. The information was culled from government sources, such as the U.S. Census, vital statistics and national surveys.

Education level

• African-American men are more likely than Hispanic and American Indian men to graduate from high school, but less likely than white and Asian men. In 2005, 77.4 percent of African-American men ages 18 to 29 had graduated from high school, compared to 60 percent for Hispanics, 67 percent for American Indians, 89 percent for Asians and 85 percent for whites.

• Fewer than 8 percent of African-American men ages 15 to 29 had graduated from college in 2005, compared to 17 percent of whites and 35 percent of Asian men in that age group.

Economic status

• Unemployment for African-American men ages 15 to 29 was 19.5 percent in 2005 -- more than twice the rate for young men of other races. The rate was 8 percent for Hispanic men, 7.9 percent for white men and 7.8 percent for Asian men in that age group.

• More than 20 percent of young African-American men live in poverty, compared to 18 percent of Hispanic, 12 percent of Asian and 10 percent of white men of the same age.

Crime

• Young African-American men are represented in the criminal justice system more than triple the rate of men of other races. In 2005, 10.1 percent of African-American men ages 15 to 29 were in prison, compared to 3.6 percent of Hispanics and 1.5 percent of whites in that age group.

• Homicide is the leading cause of death for young African-American men. The homicide death rate among African-American men per 100,000 population is 84.6 for young men, ages 15 to 24, and 61 for older men, ages 25 to 44. The same death rate is 30 and 17, respectively, for Hispanic men, 9.8 and 4.5, respectively, for Asian men and 5 and 5.1, respectively, for white men.

More information

• Operation Help One Another, a nonprofit mentoring program for Rock Hill inner-city youths. Mail to P.O. Box 37371, Rock Hill SC 29732, call 980-4357, e-mail ohelp1@aol.com or visit the Web site, www.operationhelponeanother.org. Donations are accepted.

• Black Male Summit, a Rock Hill area committee formed with a mission to restore the African-American family by promoting strong and responsible African-American men. Details, 980-4357, or e-mail blackmalesummitcommittee@yahoo.com.

Young African-American men in the U.S.

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