‘Men II Boys’ Examines the Toll of Fatherlessness among Black Youth

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Learn how to tie a tie. Know when to keep silent and when to speak up. Keep illegal substances out of your body.

Such are the fatherly pieces of advice given by the African-American men featured in a new DVD "doculogue" titled "Men II Boys: 101 Things Every Boy of Color Should Know."

The DVD - which is being shown across the country in an ongoing film and lecture tour - is drawing increased interest among youth service providers, who say the DVD is likely to have a positive impact on hard-to-reach youths with its straightforward and unpretentious messages from an older generation of black men concerned about the future of black youths.

Calvin C. Brockington, treasurer at DAMCI, a Lanham, Md.-based nonprofit agency that provides services and activities such as summer camps to at-risk youths, watched the DVD at a recent screening at Reid Temple AME Church in Glenn Dale, Md. He came away with plans to show the DVD to his board of directors to see if they can incorporate the DVD into programming at DAMCI. The nonprofit is named after Brockington's stepson, Derek Anthony Moore, who was shot to death in 1996 while collecting rent at a building he owned in Southwest Washington, D.C. DAMCI was founded by Moore's mother and Brockington's wife, the Rev. E. Jean Moore Brockington.

"It's the kind of thing that we are moving toward for our conflict resolution seminars," Brockington said of the "Men II Boys" DVD after the screening. "The conversation that was started here, we need to continue to engage in it."

 Immediately after the 44-minute DVD was shown, upcoming filmmaker Janks Morton led the audience in lively and spirited discussion about some of the topics and questions dealt with in the DVD, such as whether a woman can effectively raise a boy to be a man. In the audience as well as in the DVD, the question drew a continuum of responses with caveats about the challenges of a woman raising a boy alone.

 Morton said the DVD generated a similarly lively response among the youths he showed it to at a juvenile justice facility in Baltimore. Morton says he created the DVD earlier this year to stimulate a dialogue and to help black youths - particularly those from single-parent homes or who have absentee fathers - "begin to understand the crippling and debilitating circumstances of the legacy that was given to them by their parents."

 "I'm not the victimization, 'woe is me' dude," Morton said in an interview. ""I'm not using that as an excuse or a crutch, but it is the facts and how do we move beyond that?" Morton said, referring to youths being born into or raised in single-parent families and having little to no contact with their fathers.

 As a "doculoge," the DVD doesn't chronicle the lives of anyone in particular, but it is a composite of the stories of several men whose experiences serve to illustrate the complexities and nuances of black manhood and black fatherhood in America and the ramifications of being an uninvolved father.

 In addition to offering bits of advice to young black men that range from the importance of being a leader to not letting racism be an excuse for failure, it also deals with the challenges of being a black youth on the streets of America's large urban cities such as Baltimore, where Morton's "doculogue" was shot.

 One of the more riveting aspects of the DVD is a brief snippet of an interview with a youth who speaks with surprising insight and candor on what he sees as one of the main benefits of not having a father around and - depending on how his street vernacular is interpreted - how being fatherless actually can give a young man  a competitive edge in life.

 There are also gripping cinematic moments such as when the camera pulls back to show viewers the full extent of the injuries of a gunshot survivor who otherwise looks intact as he tells an otherwise unremarkable story.

 The lives of the men who are featured in the DVD are rife with contradictions and complexities.

 There is a journalist who speaks of being a loving father with one child and basically absent from the life of another child who lives 3,000 miles away. With an uplifting message that feels reminiscent of the Million Man March and occasional footage of the producers and men who are the subjects of the DVD that seems a bit too self-congratulatory, "Men II Boys" is nevertheless a consciousness-raising production and a effective tool to further the cause of mentoring

 At Reid Temple, prior to the screening a table contained a stack of applications for the "Boys To Men Mentoring Ministry" at the church. By the end of the screening most of the applications were gone - the perfect real-life sequel to a DVD that promises to spur dialogue and action in an area where there can never be too much concern.

Jamaal Abdul-Alim can be reached at jamaal@youthtoday.org