Group wants young black men to know they matter

SHARON -- Way out in the boondocks, in tiny Sharon in western York County, estimated population 471, a group of black men are trying to save everybody else who looks like them.

We all, of any color, ought to jump up and cheer.

Because these guys are trying.

"The black male, young, we see the state of him as a crisis," said Dennis Wilson of St. John Baptist Church in Sharon and the Western York County branch of the NAACP.

"We need to show, tell, shout, that all black men are not in jail," Wilson said. "All do not sell dope. But we also must rise up and take responsibility for our own community, and ourselves."

It may be coincidence that in the same week, Barack Obama -- a black man who has challenged other men who look like himself to be better fathers and contributors in society and to take more responsibility -- secured the Democratic nomination for president. Whatever the reason, men who stand up and be counted and who want to bring others along deserve credit.

Tonight through Sunday is the Christian Men's Fellowship Conference at St. John Baptist Church. Tonight is a "youth explosion." Song, dance and young people doing their thing.

On Saturday, U.S. Rep. John Spratt will kick off the day, followed by a panel discussion on the topic, "The state of the black male in America in 2008. Where do we go from here and what must our mission be?"

On that panel will be so many successful black men that the church might have to borrow extra chairs. Rock Hill Police Chief John Gregory. Lonnie Randolph, president of the S.C. NAACP. Russell Booker, superintendent of York schools. Doctors, preachers and more.

"All these men have succeeded, made a difference in their communities," said the church's senior pastor, the Rev. John Brown.

Even a couple of ex-gang members will speak about how their lives almost were ruined by the pull of gangs.

"All people want a sense of belonging to something; what we want to stress to young men is that belonging to a gang is not what they need to belong to," Brown said.

The church and other organizations have vans available to pick up young people who want to go. All a young man needs to do to be a part of this is want to be there.

"If somebody is hanging out at the car wash in York, out in the street, I am here to say that someone will come and get you, show you that you matter, and bring you home afterward," said Wilson.

Brown and Wilson, who is studying to become a preacher, organized the event to show young men that they are not patronizing them, not saying one thing from the pulpit and doing another.

"It is time for all of us to put our money where our mouth is, for young men to be fathers and take their families back," Wilson said.

Sharon is way off the beaten track. But the goal of this church and this group is the same for Rock Hill, York or anywhere else. In other communities, including in Rock Hill in February, different groups have hosted similar summits.

All these events show that the track to young people finding out they can be great has many paths. Come see the men who made it. Listen to them say how they did it.

Then go home, and be the man all of us know you can be.