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Black male leadership program seeks more CMS students

This week’s “My Brother’s Keeper” conference aims to help more young men of color succeed in school.
This week’s “My Brother’s Keeper” conference aims to help more young men of color succeed in school. rlahser@charlotteobserver.com

Organizers of this week’s My Brother’s Keeper CLT conference have their fingers on a hot issue: Making sure young men of color succeed in school and life.

And they have partners with clout, from the presidential push that sparked the national movement to partnerships with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.

But with Thursday’s kickoff nearing, they’re begging CMS to help enroll more students.

Last year’s conference pulled more than 300, but many were bused in from Guilford County by Superintendent Maurice “Mo” Green, says Betty Howell Gray of the N.C. branch of the National Alliance of Black School Educators, the sponsoring group.

As of last week, only 30 CMS students had signed up, prompting Gray to email Superintendent Ann Clark seeking help. Gray asked Clark to make another push to get enrollment from high-poverty schools where test scores and other measures of college and career readiness tend to be lowest.

“Even though we know that these schools are failing year in and year out, how can we share with the community or the funders of these programs that CMS students in need are not given an opportunity to attend conferences or workshops that are designed to make a difference in their learning lives?” Gray wrote.

Thursday’s session, which focuses on young men in grades seven to nine, offers sessions on mentoring, leadership and using “rap, rhythm and rhyme” to build literacy skills. It concludes with a town hall meeting at UNC Charlotte Center City, free to the public, that features Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts, CMS Board Chair Mary McCray, County Commissioners Chair Trevor Fuller, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney, the Rev. Trevor Beauford of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church and Renee Jarrett of Race Matters for Juvenile Justice.

Friday’s session is geared toward educators and others who support students of color.

Both sessions take place during school days. But CMS notified principals of Title I schools – those where poverty levels are at least 75 percent, which qualifies for federal Title I aid – that the conference is a qualified professional development activity for faculty and that the federal money could pay registration and transportation costs for students. Students are allowed to attend based on parents’ permission and each school’s decision about whether it fits the school’s mission, CMS spokeswoman Renee McCoy said.

The need for some kind of help is clear. African-American and Hispanic males trail their classmates on most measures of academic success, in CMS and elsewhere, and they’re at risk of poverty and imprisonment after graduation. CMS and community partners have launched an array of efforts to support high-poverty schools that serve mostly students of color, including Project LIFT and the district’s Beacon Initiative. A couple of years ago, then-Superintendent Heath Morrison convened a task force on African-American males.

Gray’s crew has extended registration; for information call 704-817-9341 or email ncnabseaffiliate@gmail.com. The town hall meeting starts at 5 p.m. Thursday at UNCC Center City, 320 E. Ninth St.

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

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