Black teens get lessons in daily survival skills Programs target finance, self-esteem

December 26, 1991|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Baltimore County Bureau of The Sun

A teen-age boy approached another youth aggressively and asked if he was going to the basketball court. "No," the second boy answered, walking with an effeminate gait. He wanted to go home to study.

"What's wrong with you, man?" the first teen demanded. "You're a sellout. You're whiter than the whitest white man."

Laughter rippled through the group of African-American middle and high school students as they watched the two boys, who had been asked to act out the behavior of some of their peers on a recent Saturday morning.

The 60 students are participating in two projects geared toward African-American students from Baltimore County and called "Ujamaa," Swahili for "cooperative economics" and BEST -- Building Esteem through Social Training.

The "Ujamaa" half teaches students economic skills, such as how to write checks, set up family budgets and understand economic terms. The BEST portion teaches students about African and African-American culture and how to interact with their peers, family and the community.

The students volunteer to attend eight monthly three-hour sessions at Dundalk Community College, where they are taught skills they might not otherwise learn, said Gloria Marrow, a founder of the program.

"I wanted to do something to help our children survive in this hostile environment in which they live. I am interested in children. We need to do something to help them achieve," she said.

"Our theme is "Us Helping Us,'" said Edna O'Connor, another program coordinator who also works for Baltimore County schools Office of Minority Education.

Acting out situations that the students might encounter in school, such as the confrontation portrayed by the two teen-agers, can help youngsters know themselves better and handle everyday situations better, said Ms. Marrow, an assistant principal at a Baltimore middle school.

"There's nothing wrong with being smart," she told the group after the basketball player-and-the-nerd scene. She also pointed out to the student portraying the nerd that he associated being smart with being effeminate.

In another scene, one boy playing a thug bumped into another student and shouted at him. The second student walked away instead of being drawn into a confrontation with the thug. The boy playing the thug walked away too, swaggering but with downcast eyes.

"You did something that I love," Ms. Marrow told the boy playing the thug. "You walked with your head down, and what does that say?" she asked the students.

"Low self-esteem," they answered.

"Yes. You have associated low self-esteem with being a thug," Ms. Marrow said.

Tangela Smith, 14, admits it took a little parental urging for her to attend the program, but she enjoys it now.

"Before I came, I didn't think I would like it," the Perry Hall High School sophomore said. "I don't mind giving up the time. It's very informal."

Shayn Atkins, 16, does have a complaint about the seminars. "I think it should be at least two Saturdays out of the month," the Woodlawn High School junior said.

Brian Smith, 15, likes the financial planning he is learning. "When you grow up, this will help you know how to manage your money," the Perry Hall sophomore said.

Linda Richardson, sat with other parents as her 15-year-old daughter, Keisha, attended the seminar.

"I had to nudge her a bit to get her to come," Mrs. Richardson said. "But I think it is an excellent program, and what else would she be doing today?"

The Baltimore County chapters of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, the Jack and Jill Foundation, the Baltimore County schools and Dundalk Community College co-sponsor the program which is free to any county school student in sixth through 12th grade.

The program is run by people who are associated with those organizations and members of the Mary McLeod Bethune Community Action Group.

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