Reaching out to at-risk males from the Upstate between the ages of 8 and 16, the second annual Black Boys of Distinction Program begins June 8 at Wofford College. It will continue for six weeks culminating in a two-day symposium on July 31 and Aug. 1.
Wofford graduate Thomas Woods ’00 (pictured) helped facilitate the Wofford/Black Boys of Distinction connection. A computer science major and Richardson Family Scholar, Woods played football and served as both vice president and president of the Association of African American Students at Wofford. He was involved with Jason Hill (then a member of the college staff) and others in the founding of the Transitions program and was a student liaison to the board of trustees and the presidential search committee that selected current president Benjamin B. Dunlap.
Woods described how Black Boys of Distinction came about.
“The visionary for the program was Apostle Tommy Quick, the pastor at Spartanburg Christian Discipleship Center,” says Woods. “We feel like there are a tremendous number of black boys who are falling through the cracks. Many of them weren’t getting the support they need, at home or at school, to succeed in life.”
The program began with a symposium last August. Project I Can Symposium had 300 people in attendance to discuss needs in the black community. That kicked off the Saturday Academy the following month, where boys come for 3.5 to 4 hours and facilitators teach them social skills, work skills and identity discovery.
“What we’ve seen already is many of these boys making a 180-degree turn,” says Woods. “They’re able to express their feelings and understand where they are and where they need to go. They’re becoming more goal-oriented. Teachers have given great testimonies of how these boys are making a positive impact in classrooms now. Whereas before they would sit in the back of the classroom and cut up, now they pay attention and are even starting to be leaders in the class. Their grades have gone up drastically.”
The election of this country’s first black president hasn’t hurt.
“It has helped us indirectly,” Woods says. “We started this right before he got elected. But I think (Obama’s election) enhanced the message that you really can attain something in this society. It’s not just a dream anymore. People of color used to say they wanted to be president all the time. It just didn’t seem likely.
“But with the election of President Obama and a few other people in high positions it is becoming a reality, and kids can aspire to that. It goes along with our message, that given the right atmosphere and guidance, you can become a president or a judge or anything you want to be.”
Suddenly more career paths are lighted for young black males.
“A lot of times, in minority communities especially, the kids are all looking at pro sports or the music industry,” says Woods. “We’re not saying there’s anything wrong with that, but a lot of people don’t make it in those industries, and there are a lot of other professional fields you might enjoy if you’re given the right guidance.”
On the Black Boys of Distinction Web site (http://www.blackboysofdistinction.org/), there is talk about empowering not just black boys, but their parents as well.
“We feel that there are three pieces of the puzzle here,” Woods says. “We as an organization have to buy into it, which we do. After that, either the boy has to buy in or the boy’s parent(s). Hopefully, all three do it, but if we have two, we feel like we still have a good chance of helping the boy.”