Whatever it is that has separated the men from the boys in Baltimore's Cherry Hill community, people there are trying now to bring them together again.
About 25 black men and 50 young boys gathered yesterday over grits, eggs and hash browns in the basement of the Hemingway Temple AME Church to launch what they say will be a program to connect the neighborhood's boys with men who will become positive forces in their lives.
It was one of eight such Men/Youth Day breakfasts in the Baltimore and Annapolis areas yesterday organized by The 100 Black Men of Maryland, a year-old group of black professionals who want to break the cycle of violence.
"I got tired of sitting down and looking at the TV every night at some young black kids in handcuffs sitting in a [police] wagon," said Roscoe Heigh, 57, a retired federal program analyst from Catonsville and a member of 100 Black Men.
Mr. Heigh's guest at the breakfast was 11-year-old Henry Jones who, despite his L.A. Lakers T-shirt, informed a visitor that "in 20 years I'm going to play for the [Chicago] Bulls."
A positive goal, for sure. For the more immediate future, however, he said, "My mother told me to keep the Lord first, and not get on the corner, and don't be like a bum."
"There are a lot of good kids coming out of Cherry Hill," said Teddy Russell, a fifth-grade teacher in Edmondson Village who once taught in Cherry Hill and coordinated yesterday's event.
But the neighborhood's children also face the temptations and dangers of drugs and violence.
"These children see more in their community than I think they should," Mr. Russell said, and many of them confront the risks without fathers in their homes to help guide them away from danger.
"Our purpose is to try to encourage them to work hard in school, do their homework and pay attention in class," he said. "We feel if we meet with these boys, one-on-one, we could kind of curb these tendencies."
The men, members of 100 Black Men from outside the community and members of the Hemingway congregation, hope to stick with these boys through the 12th grade, counsel them, and take them to ball games, museums, picnics and college campuses until they can see a better path for themselves.
"One of the only ways I feel we're going to bring about an end to a lot of the violence and genocide in our society is to get to the children, so their morals and values have a solid foundation," said Hemingway's pastor, the Rev. Howard Wright.
For Jamie Washington, 32, music minister at Hemingway and a Ph.D candidate in higher education and administration at College Park, one of the best ways to get to the children is to hug them.
"I don't think we embrace our boys enough," he said. "After a certain age, 5 or 6, we stop hugging young black boys, and they still need to be hugged and loved. They don't have to be men at 12. It's as the result of trying to be men too soon that they act out in too many negative ways."
More than a half-dozen young men proved that after the breakfast. They swarmed around Mr. Washington waiting for hugs, including his guests, Nicholas Woodard, 5, and his cousin, Patrick Woodard, 7.
Each of the boys at the breakfast got there by writing brief essays on "What it means to be a man," and "The man I admire most."
One theme that ran through all of those essays, Mr. Russell told the gathering, was this: "If I could only spend more time with my father. My father doesn't live in the same house as I live in, but boy, if I could just spend more time with him . . ."
Robert Donald got involved in the Men/Youth Day breakfast because "I've always wanted a baby brother."
The youngest of 13 children, the Randallstown food manager and graduate business student at Morgan State University, grew up in a tough West Baltimore neighborhood and survived with the guidance of two parents "who taught me that the street corner was bad, drinking was bad and not to do drugs."
Now, he said, "I feel I've had the opportunity to finish high school and go to college, and it's time to pass my knowledge on. It lets me know there is some hope for the world."