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June 5, 2009

“Men II Boys” Documentary Offers Advice and Inspiration

By Philip J. Leaf, PhD

Tie a tie. Respect a woman.

These are just two pieces of fatherly advice handed down last week to a group of young men at the “Men II Boys” Film and Lecture Tour, hosted last week at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and sponsored by theCenter of Adolescent Health, theCenter for Prevention of Youth Violence, and the Urban Leadership Institute.

The event brought together 125 male students from Baltimore City schools with leaders in the African-American community to screen the new documentary “Men II Boys” and participate in a community discussion on how to become fathers to the fatherless. “The film really made me think about how hard it is being a black man in America,” said Issac Joyner, a student from Baltimore’s Success Academy.

“Men II Boys,” directed by D.C.-based filmmaker Janks Morton, discusses the lack of father-to-son relationships, primarily in the African-American community, and how that affects a boy’s ascent into manhood. Morton interviews a range of black men—including Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), Baltimore Raven Daniel Wilcox and UMBC president Freeman A. Hrabowski III—and asks them to give advice to young boys of color.

In the film, the men also share their own experiences with their fathers and how having a father around impacted their lives. The documentary is based on the book, “101 Things Every Boy of Color Should Know,” written by LaMarr Darnell Shields, formerly the Director of Youth Support for the Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence.

A former Baltimore City school teacher, Shields is the president of the Urban Leadership Institute, which consults with corporations and institutions working with at-risk youth. “Young black men are so used to hearing what not to do: don’t drop out, don’t go to jail,” Shields said. “This book and movie are a way for them to hear from men about what to do.”

As the film started, many of the boys talked and horsed around, but the room quickly drew silent when the documentary showed a man, paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair, who began to talk about how his wrong decision caused him to become a victim of gun violence.

A powerful part of the event was the after-film discussion with Shields and Morton. Several tears were shed as the boys began to talk about pain, fear and abandonment. Al Watson, a conflict mediator and panel discussion participant, shared his own personal story about how his father committed suicide when he was young, and how it still affects him today. He admitted that even now, he still searches for advice from older men. “We all need a shoulder to lean on,” Watson said.

For more information about “Men II Boys” and “101 Things Every Boy of Color Should Know,” visit www.mentoboys.com

Philip J. Leaf is the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence and a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health