`Progressive Men' keeping a vision alive

Neighbors

August 25, 1999|By Heather Tepe | Heather Tepe,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BY ALL accounts, Steven G. Outen was a remarkable man. His heart was filled with charity toward others and love for his friends and community.

Outen grew up in "C Town" -- his name for Columbia -- and formed friendships that would last beyond his lifetime. He died in an automobile accident in November at age 27.

Through Progressive Men, an organization he created in 1991, friends are keeping his memory alive.

Outen worked at an educational facility for disadvantaged youth in Woodstock. He also was studying for an advanced degree in counseling at Bowie State. He graduated from the Eastern Shore campus of the University of Maryland with a degree in criminal justice.

"One of Steve's main purposes in life was to help underprivileged kids, and that's what he was doing before he passed away," said his father, Charles Outen, a resident of Thunder Hill.

Progressive Men was founded as a way for friends from high school to stay in touch. But as the young men matured, their commitment to supporting each other grew with them. Group members, who have taken a variety of career paths, try to be role models in their chosen fields and communities.

"We wanted to represent young guys trying to move forward and being positive instead of guys just hanging out," says Clarys Forest resident Jeff Ramsay.

Laurel resident Gary Parker was one of Outen's best friends. In his career as a social worker, he places neglected and abused children in foster care.

"I tell the kids I work with that in life you're not always dealt a good hand, but you have to play out the hand you're dealt to the best of your ability," he said. "If you put God first, your family second, and school or your career third, everything else will fall in place."

"Some kids are confused," said Derrick Leak, a founding member of Progressive Men who lives in Long Reach. "The culture now is all about who is hard or tough. I try to plant seeds. I tell kids to start setting goals for themselves; it's never too late. I tell them to take advantage of the schools in Howard County. You don't realize how good you have it until you hear about the trials and tribulations of people from other places."

Most of the original members grew up in Columbia and attended Howard High School between 1986 and 1990. Progressive Men now has more than 150 members.

Keisha Reynolds, 24, of Wilde Lake is "little sister" to the 10 to 15 men who make up the core group of the organization. Reynolds was a neighbor of the Outens when she was growing up.

"I'm proud to know the group of young men known as the Progressive Men," she said. "It's a group that presents a positive image of black men, and a group of educated men who present an image of fellowship in the community."

When Outen died, the Progressive Men took up a collection to cover the funeral costs. They raised more than $7,000. Charles and Emma Outen allowed the Progressive Men to plan their son's funeral.

"We knew these boys. Most of them grew up in and around our home. We knew they were capable of planning the funeral. We felt Steven would have wanted that," Charles Outen said.

"When Steve passed, we had to hold each other up," Leak said. "Steve was the glue that held our group together. These guys are more than my friends. They're like brothers. We're always looking out for one another. If one of us needs help, we're going to be there no matter what."

Ramsay agrees.

"Steve was like the center of the web," he said. "When he passed, it made us realize that our time here is precious, and it's not guaranteed at all. So we just try to make the most of it."

The Progressive Men is making plans to fund a scholarship in Outen's name at Howard High School. The scholarship would help pay college tuition for a Howard High graduate.

Charles Outen is thrilled that the Progressive Men is continuing in his son's footsteps.

"I've never seen anything like this in my whole life," he said. "It means everything to me that they're keeping his dreams alive. It keeps Steven alive with us."

Once a year, Progressive Men holds a picnic during which members take up a collection for charities. In the beginning, the annual picnic was held at the Jeffers Hill neighborhood center. As attendance grew to more than 300 people, the group moved the event to Symphony Woods in 1995, where it has been held for three years.

Although Parker says there was "no violence and no drama" at the Symphony Woods picnics, he says representatives of the Columbia Association told him that the group would have to take out a $1 million liability insurance policy to continue holding the event on the property.

"We need to have more insurance because there is a greater risk associated with larger groups of people," said Pam Mack, vice president of community relations for the Columbia Association.

Now Progressive Men is searching for another site in Columbia. This year's picnic was held at Laurel Lakes Park. But Parker hopes the Columbia Association will reconsider.

"We'd love to have it in Columbia again," he said. "This is our home."

Information: 301-596-0160.

Pub Date: 8/25/99

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