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Closing a gap: Brother to Brother

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Program reaches out to young black men

By Sarah Bennett

The little white house at 100 Gallery Place in Elizabethtown bustled with volunteers hurrying to renovate the former residence of Charles and Emma Reno Connor in time for its Black History Month open house.

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Ten of the volunteers were young men with Brother to Brother, a locally run program that works to empower young black men with English, math and life skills, said Toni Perry, assistant director.

Modeled after Lexington’s Men at Work Program, Perry said Brother to Brother is in its third year.  Its goal, she said, is to partner with the community and families to address an apparent achievement gap in schools among young black men.

“We’re not looking at it as the victim,” Perry said. “We look at it as empowering. That gap can be closed.”

The program chooses to focus on English and math because those educational areas will help the teens “compete in the global society,” she explained.

“Those two areas will help them get jobs to fulfill the American dream,” Perry said. “We’re trying to plant positive seeds in our boys.”

Volunteering recently at the Black History Gallery was one of the program’s community service initiatives, said Marcus Dixon, one of the program’s facilitators who teaches the class, “Life Hurts, God Heals.”

“Everything we can do to help the community,” Dixon said.

Recently they’ve assisted Helping Hand of Hope, and they plan to work with Feeding America later this year, he said. At the Black History Gallery, they were focusing on preserving history.

Brenda Tucker, who with her husband, Ralph, serves as the gallery’s caretaker, said they have partnered with the Brother to Brother program.

Once a month, they go to the Vaughn Reno-Starks Community Center to speak to the teens and offer information about how black men can be successful, Tucker said. For example, they plan to hold sessions about personal hygiene, manners and etiquette.

Recently, Tucker was contacted by Brother to Brother about completing a community service project at the Black History Gallery, she said. The gallery needed to be renovated in time to open for Black History Month.

“What we’re doing is taking the pictures down and repainting the walls,” Dixon said Jan. 28 as the house buzzed with activity.

Brother to Brother meets Saturday mornings at Vaughn Reno-Starks Community Center. At 9:30 a.m., breakfast is provided for the young men, Perry said, and activities start at 10 a.m. when counselors from various area schools talk about issues such as test-taking skills and conflict resolution.

“So many people in the community come in and ask how they can help,” she said.

Students in sixth through 12th grades are welcom.d Perry said those in the program represent Hardin County and Elizabethtown Independent school districts.

Asked how much of an impact Brother to Brother has on its participants, Dixon and Perry said they are working on compiling that data now.

“We want to make sure we know the program is successful,” Perry said.

Sarah Bennett can be reached at (270) 505-1750 or sbennett@thenewsenterprise.com.