Young men get lesson in success

A summit for black and Hispanic youths is meant to counter social trends.

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 23, 2007

TAMPA - They jumped from their chairs; they rhymed and they rapped.

They wore suits and ties and the Army's dress uniform; they told stories of wrong turns, right decisions and buddies chewed up by the streets.

The men who spoke before several hundred black and Hispanic young men Saturday described lives turned around on a dime by their own choices - sometimes years after ignoring their parents' sound advice, sometimes with no road map but their own internal compass.

"I wish someone would have come and said you cannot jive your way to the top," said Otis Anthony, former executive assistant in the Tampa mayor's office, and current head of diversity management for Polk County's public schools.

He was one of many speakers during Saturday's "Success is a Choice: African-American and Latino Male Summit" held at the Hillsborough Community College campus on Dale Mabry Highway. The event was organized by Bible-Based Fellowship Community Development Corporation.

About 300 to 400 young black and Hispanic men attended from churches, group homes, court-ordered programs and schools in an effort by community pillars of education, business and faith groups to confront negative social trends. The message to choose success and work for it, no matter what life dishes out, was organizers' attempt to combat low high school and college graduation rates among black and Hispanic men and high rates of incarceration and residency in juvenile justice programs.

Anthony, a published poet and author, displayed his activist roots from his Afro-wearing days in the 1970s, but this time in a suit. He rapped on stage about social justice and greed, leading some of the slouched teenagers throughout the auditorium to sit up straight in their chairs and take notice.

"When you're educated, that's how you rap," he said, advising them to avoid today's commercialized hip-hop, much of which was filling their heads with "junk."

But he turned serious, telling them to overcome tough upbringings and setbacks with determination.

"When I got to college, I realized I was four years behind the white kids," Anthony said. "I had to run twice as fast to catch up."

Another speaker, Daryl Johnson, a U.S. postal supervisor and publisher of a weekly magazine, brought the young men to their feet to yell after him: "I am ... success!"

"Young man, I didn't hear you say it," Johnson said, calling out someone slacking.

"I remember my father saying a man is not narrow in the hips and wide in the shoulders. Having the biggest muscles is not a man," he said. "Being able to take care of yourself, being able to take care of your family, that's being a man."

The day's message - acted out in skits, broken down during workshops and contained in Anthony's rhymes - seemed to stick.

Mali Jenkins, 12, a sixth-grader at Greco Middle School, said the men on stage impressed him. He liked what they had to say about staying in school and picking good friends, not people who tear you down.

But his favorite part of all, he said, was "the guy doing poetry."

Saundra Amrhein can be reached at amrhein@sptimes.com or 661-2441.