North Mpls. club shows boys how to 'man up'
"How many of you guys have a temper?" Korey Dean asked the group of 11 young black men and boys one recent Thursday night.
He invited a couple of the men to step on his shoes, but the guys refused — that's something that could lead to a fight, they said.
"Now, you catch my point," said Dean, pointing out that young men often act out violently when they feel disrespected, like if someone steps on a pair of shoes they value. Dean wants the guys to be conscious of how their values influence their anger.
"And remember," Dean said, "at the end of the day, only you can control you."
Grow the Future of Public Media
MPR News is Member supported public media. Show your support today, donate, and ensure access to local news and in-depth conversations for everyone.
They were at a meeting of The Man Up Club, for which Dean is the founder and executive director.
The club is one of several community efforts that will vie for a chunk of $500,000 Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges is requesting in her 2018 budget proposal. The goal of the allocation is to continue funding community-based youth anti-violence programs.
The Man Up Club comprises young black men and boys chosen because they either live in or frequent the West Broadway Avenue corridor, where youth violence is particularly problematic.
The club takes the phrase "man up" and converts it from a saying used to shame men and boys who show vulnerability to one meant to teach them that there's much more to being a man than acting tough.
Dean developed The Man Up Club when he worked in the North St. Paul schools as a student advocate where he helped counsel 500 black students.
During club meetings, the guys get something to eat along with their life lessons. The program also pays the young men between $50 and $120 every two weeks as incentives to have perfect attendance and completed assignments.
Dean said The Man Up Club received $37,000 for its summer program.
One recent night, The Man Up Club had a special guest: Hodges. She told the guys that part of her job is to propose budgets that fund programs like the one they're in.
"And then every once in a while, I get to go somewhere and see that those numbers on the page have an impact on real people and real lives," said Hodges, who is running for her second term as mayor.
The young men take turns telling the mayor about their summers. For 23-year-old Ka'Shaun Gage, being in The Man Up Club is a high point in an otherwise tough year.
"In the last two months, I've lost six people that I care about," said Gage.
Gage didn't elaborate on how those people died, but said the group has been a refuge for him.
"Being here is the first time in my 23 years of ever hearing my mom say she's proud of me," Gage said. "I never heard her say that. She's just been so happy since me and my brother been here."
Gage said he's disappointed the regular Thursday night meetings are over — that means he'll have to go back to the "real world."
That world has also been tough for 16-year-old Kerrionte Fair. He lives with a friend because he said his mom is unable to provide a stable home life for him. Fair said being in the club has made it easier for him to cope.
He said there are people his age who don't think they'll live to see 21. Fair didn't think he would either.
He fought back tears as he wondered where his mom might be.
"It's just ... life's hard for young black men," said Fair.
As Fair struggled to compose himself, 17-year-old Meek Stalling comforted him.
"Your tears show your character," Stalling said. "It shows you're real, bro.'"
"I will say, my life hasn't been your life. But I didn't think I was going to live to 21 either," Hodges told the group, explaining that she's a survivor of child sexual abuse and that she became sober at the age of 19.
She told Fair and any other young men who are struggling, to know that while her situation has been different, it is OK to share their pain with others, who will still love and accept them.
Hodges said she would like to see The Man Up Club chosen as part of next year's round of public safety grants. But it's not up to her.
A community panel will pick which programs will be funded. And it's not clear what parts of the city will be targeted in the next round.
Dean said he will apply for the grant next year, but the club will keep going even if it doesn't make the cut.
The nonprofit club's future is heavily dependent on their ability to raise funds and develop partnerships, he said, and it's planning a fall fundraising gala.
Still, Dean promises the young men they will always be members of the group.
"You are a lifelong member of The Man Up Club," said Dean. "That doesn't expire. There is no expiration date on that."