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Black men unite for youth

Published Oct. 8, 2005

Saturday mornings usually find 13-year-old Marvin Braddy at McDonald's with his mom, eating pancakes and sausage to prepare for an afternoon of football practice.

But this Saturday morning, Marvin was at a downtown hotel, dining with bankers, college professors and politicians at an Urban League breakfast intended to help prepare him for life.

"Images of the Father" was the theme of the gathering at the Holiday Inn Ashley Plaza, which honored African-American community leaders and addressed issues that affect young black men. After city of Tampa director of community affairs Bobby Bowden read a proclamation declaring Oct. 22 Image of a Black Man Day, the Urban League's Darrell B. Daniels set the tone for the occasion.

"Black boys are our responsibility," Daniels told the audience of about 75 people. "We will make our own blueprint for taking care of them _ not HRS's, not the juvenile justice system's, not the court system's."

Poet and writer James Tokley employed a less conventional method in reinforcing the participants' commitment to responsibility. Together with his son, James Jr., Tokley presided over a ceremony in which all male guests were invited to join together in a "Circle of Truth."

Standing within the circle holding a wooden spear, Tokley solemnly challenged them to become members of a "new tribe." He told them to come forward and touch the spear only if they were truly committed to protecting themselves and those within their care from the "sick and disoriented" of society.

"It made me feel strong," an admittedly nervous Marvin Braddy said after the ceremony. "We all came together as one," added Marvin, who accepted Tokley's challenge along with all the other participants.

Marvin said that to be a man means to "take care of responsibilities, keep your house well, have a job and take care of your family."

"These kids need to have positive influences like this now, at a young age," said Homer Jones, who attended the breakfast with his son Terry, 13, a classmate of Marvin's at Middleton Middle School. "They need to grow up with the right image of black men, not what they see on TV."

The theme of responsibility was echoed by speaker Joe Brown, a member of the Tampa Tribune editorial board.

"How did we get to this point where 74 percent of black households are headed by single women?" Brown said. "Yes, it's a problem, but we have to accept it and do something about it."

Brown called for a "good old-fashioned, cross-denominational moral revival" to help heal the African-American community.

Among the "men of outstanding character" who received plaques Saturday morning were: C. Blythe Andrews Jr., publisher of the Florida Sentinel Bulletin, Tampa City councilman Perry Harvey Jr., NAACP administrator Robert W. Saunders Sr., and civil rights activist Henry Bohler.

Other honorees were Grover Stevens, Belmont Heights Little League volunteer; Samm Philmore, a retired law enforcement officer; George Kennedy, Police Athletic League coach of the year; the Rev. Arthur T. Jones, Florida Mass Choir director; Eric T. Hill of USF's Center for Urban Transportation Research; June White of the Ponce de Leon Playground; and James T. Hargrett Sr., a former teacher and businessman who is the father of Florida state Sen. James T. Hargrett Jr.