Mentors provide a better chance for boys in need

March 01, 1994|By Alisa Samuels | Alisa Samuels,Sun Staff Writer

Samuel Booker is a promising tennis player, and like his favorite player, Boris Becker, he wants to play professional tennis.

"I'm trying to get ranking in the state," said Samuel, 16, the county's No. 1 ranked player. "My best shots are my forehand and volleys."

Samuel just may get the opportunity to fulfill his dream thanks to Martell Perry, a man who noticed Samuel's skills and talents and is trying to get him a college scholarship.

"I hope so," the Howard High School junior said of the possibility. He knows his single-parent mother can't afford to send him to the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, where he'd like to major in English.

Helping black youths achieve and believe in themselves are what Mr. Perry and seven other mentors try to do for boys between 10 and 17 in the St. John the Evangelist Baptist Church Mentoring Program.

Barbara Cooper Miller, the program's coordinator, said the effort began in May 1992 after organizers realized that Howard County isn't immune from the problems experienced in many neighborhoods in Baltimore and Washington.

"Because we don't see the drive-by shootings or people sleeping on crates, we can be lulled into a false sense of security," Mrs. Miller said. "All is not well in Disneyland."

Starting with 10 mentors, the idea is to provide positive role models to black boys so they will stay in school.

The program stresses spirituality, employment, culture, recreation and at-home tutoring for boys who ask for assistance. The $1,500 it takes to run the program this year is covered in the church's budget.

Speakers, such as Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, have visited the group. The boys and their mentors have gone on field trips, including a tour of the U.S. Capitol and a visit to Congressman Kweisi Mfume.

On Feb. 25, the mentoring group watched the Washington Bullets play the Chicago Bulls. Bullets players Larry Stewart and Michael Adams donated the tickets.

Mentors are church members, but the boys aren't necessarily members of the church.

They meet once or twice a month at the Wilde Lake Interfaith Center to discuss schoolwork or the normal concerns of teen-aged boys, such as girls. The boys and their mentors often hang out together. "He's taught me a lot of things like self-confidence," said Michael Price about his mentor Richard Younger Sr., a retired engineer.

Mr. Younger said that since their relationship began, he's seen Michael improve his grades and become more communicative. "We have a good relationship," he said.

Kingspride Hammond, 14, said: "I like my mentor. He's taught me [that] men don't always have to do things easy."

Many of the mentors said they volunteered for the program because they wanted to give back to the community.

Charlie Gayle, 58, a systems engineer, said his mentor was his father, an auto mechanic, who worked hard while disciplining and caring for him. "I started my first job when I was 6, holding the light while he made repairs," he recalled.

"Not all fathers are good fathers," Mr. Gayle said, "but when you have a good father, I don't think there's a substitute for that."

James Price said Mr. Perry helped him set up a shoeshine stand and get business cards so he could learn about self-employment.

"He's my friend," James said. "He has a sense of humor. He listens and . . . explains things."

The church's minister, the Rev. Robert Turner, said he would like for the program to serve more of the young black boys in the Wilde Lake area. "Our mentors give our youth some direction and support."

Mr. Turner said he'll try to recruit more church members to volunteer for the program.

Harolyn Harrison, one of the organizers, said the church is creating a similar program for girls, too.

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