Nyron Clark, an eighth grader at Bradley Middle School, said he understands the impact of negative life choices.
At a young age, he said, he has seen a stranger shot and killed, has been bullied in his neighborhood, and has bullied right back. But today, he said, he is taking life into his own hands and making right choices for his future.
Nyron is part of a second-year club at Bradley Middle called Straight Talk. The group, which meets for several hours each Tuesday, is designed for young men once headed down rocky paths.
“You have to stay strong and get through life the right way,” Nyron said. “I want to go to the Art Institute and be an architect.” He hopes to develop leadership skills by attending the weekly meetings. He’s already improved his grades since joining last year, he said.
The Straight Talk group of about 50 students meets to talk about the importance of academics and learn about study habits, leadership development, social and personal growth, said Gilbert Parker, club adviser and teacher.
Parker said he came up with Straight Talk because he wanted to make a positive change in kids’ lives. When he launched the group in the 2010-11 school year, 52 boys enrolled and all came to him with failing grades. By the end of the year, every student made passing grades, he said.
“We’ve made a lot of progress,” Parker said. “We’re not perfect, but we’re learning.”
Each meeting, Parker invites guest speakers from the community into Straight Talk meetings. On Oct. 9, for example, the third session of the school year, about 45 students listened to Titus Broom, part of Genesis Project 1. That project aims to provide families with counseling, structured groups and in-home meetings to ensure their success.
Broom, who uses a wheelchair, opened his speech to the Bradley boys by saying he brought along three friends. Each are now dead, he said.
“They were y’all’s age when they died,” Broom said. “We were sitting at a table just like you, but they didn’t listen to (their mentors and teachers).”
Broom goes on to say he followed the wrong crowd, hoping to be accepted. As a young man, he dealt drugs and was shot as a result.
The shocking stories left the room silent. Slowly, hands raised to ask questions. “Why is fighting bad?” “Can you get in trouble for fighting, even though you aren’t at school?” “What do I do if I’m bullied?”
Broom composed himself for the last question and asked: “How many of you in this room are being bullied?” Several boys raised their hands.
Following the question, Max McKeand, an eighth-grader, glanced across his table and saw his friend’s eyes welling up with tears. Max stretched out a hand for support.
Max said he joined the Straight Talk group to empower himself and learn how to become a role model. “It helps me know that I have a family at home to help me and a family at school to help me. We know we have someone to talk to.”
Miles Washington, a seventh-grader, said he joined the group to focus on homework and his grades so he can continue to play basketball and football.
“You have to have good grades and talent to play sports,” Miles said. “It’s about practicing and turning in your homework.”
“No matter where you go, you can make right choices,” Parker said. “Our goal is to be successful men.”