Bedrock Youth Academy: My Brother’s Keeper, My Sister’s Keeper

| September 22, 2015

Attendees of the first annual MBK/MSK Lighthouse Scholarship Ball including (left to right) Jimmie “Chip” Clark, MBK Specialist/Community Outreach; Ranada Clark; Gralan Early, MBK Specialist; Andre Beasley, Director of Operations; Virgil Tharp, Executive Director; Alex Presley (standing), Community Outreach; Cassius Stalings, MBK Specialist; Gordon Martin, Program Director and Shampree Williams, Administrative Assistant. Not pictured are Dante Lowery, Margret Jordan and Janee Langhorne. [COURTESY PHOTO]

Attendees of the first annual MBK/MSK Lighthouse Scholarship Ball including (left to right) Jimmie “Chip” Clark, MBK Specialist/Community Outreach; Ranada Clark; Gralan Early, MBK Specialist; Andre Beasley, Director of Operations; Virgil Tharp, Executive Director; Alex Presley (standing), Community Outreach; Cassius Stalings, MBK Specialist; Gordon Martin, Program Director and Shampree Williams, Administrative Assistant. Not pictured are Dante Lowery, Margret Jordan and Janee Langhorne. [COURTESY PHOTO]

By Chasiti Falls

“…And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him. Then the LORD said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?” And he said, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’”—Genesis 4:8-9

Allen County has grassroots organizations that are fulfilling some of the social, economic and community voids that our children are truly “thirsty” for. Speaking with GorDon Martin, an administrative assistant at Fort Wayne Community School’s (FWCS) Miami Middle, I learned that some have grown tired of mentoring students they have to bury, thus they have found and are working on methods so that they have graduations to go to instead of funerals.

Bedrock Youth Academy (BYA) was born in 2006 out of Miami Middle School. As a concerned family member, Virgil Tharp started holding lunchroom chats with students who were in need of constructive attention. Tharp shared with me that when he first stepped into the classroom, he was anticipating the students to adjust their behavior, at the least play like they are paying attention to the teacher. To his surprise, that didn’t happen at all. He said a student even used the “N” word to great him. With all things being in divine order, from that moment, Tharp has been a dedicated civil servant to the students of Miami, and an advocate of change for the youth of Fort Wayne. Fortunately, he was not alone.

While Tharp was giving his all to the students who needed a helping hand to stay out of the judicial system, there was another God-send at Miami working with the students who were doing well in the school, but were overlooked. Being one of these students myself, I can fully relate. If one is not raking in the awards or in the office every other day, no one knows you your name.

Martin, one of my own mentors and ironically a musical mentor to Tharp as well, worked on “glorifying the nerd” at Miami Middle. Martin was mentoring that 20 percent of students who go to school and do what they are supposed to do but lack the praise and support they need to thrive. One day, Martin said he noticed that one of his students would sit by himself during the lunch period not eating. Overwhelmed with concern, Martin began inviting this young man to his office and, eventually, more students to have lunch with him.

With Generation X raising the Millennials, the community needs all the help it can get. Children are like flowers. They have to be watered, talked to and need daily attention to bloom properly. Martin and Tharp brainstormed and thought it would be promising to combine the two different groups of chartered young men to benefit the student community as a whole. The idea worked!

In 2008, Tharp and Martin collaborated to form My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) with the mission to foster all-around excellence through peer accountability. Tharp said, “Obama stole the motto from us.” The name is rooted obviously from the biblical story of Cain and Abel, and the meaning it carries. Despite what the common man thinks, this not-for-profit organization is not a religious organization forcing religion down children’s throats.

Tharp expressed, “We are not a faith-based organization, but everything we teach is based in faith. Belief is things unseen.”

Many of the youth don’t go to church, and don’t know who or what God is. MBK is aiming to show the youth who God is, not preach about God.

My Sister’s Keeper (MSK) was established in 2012 for young women grades six through 12, which is the equivalent for MBK. These groups are adult guided peer mentoring programs that promote positive change within each participant, which prayerfully spills off into their families which in turn benefits the community. Sounds great right? Unfortunately, “haters gonna hate” as they say. MBK has obstacles like everything else when trying to take the high road.

I spoke with mother Lisa Powers about the MBK. She has two children who were graduates of the first group called Phase 10. Her boys, Deion “General Patton” Powers and Keion “Big Brother All Mighty” Powers, had been participants with MBK since the sixth grade. Lisa and her husband Kevin explained that, “the program validated what mom and dad were saying at home.” It helps children to see that parents have good intentions. When parent have people in the community echoing what they are saying or trying to do, it enforces discipline.

Powers gave a parental testimony at this year’s first annual MBK/MSK Lighthouse Scholarship Ball. The Ball honored and awarded scholarships to six prominent high school seniors who have shown academic excellence and paved the way for younger BYA members. More than 100 people attended the ball with Dr. Wendy Robinson, FWCS superintendent, as the keynote speaker, generating thousands in funds for future scholarships and organizational growth.

Both of Power’s boys received recognition at the ball and are currently attending and active in the athletics program at Davenport University.

Powers sang MBK praises when she spoke of their guidelines as an organization that does not allow sagging, enforces a uniform and advocates community service.

“We witness the transformation in our boys and learned that all kids want discipline because they want to know people care. MBK is very instrumental in a lot of kids’ lives…it holds the parent’s accountable.,” she said.

Accountability is such a strong word meaning “being called to account for one’s actions.” As a community, not everyone is prepared or strong enough for such things. Powers and Tharp shared with me some of the setbacks and adversary tales that they have encountered.

My people, my people, we have to do better!  I recognize that some are sincerely suffering from “Post Traumatic Slave Disorder,” while we continue to lead by example or learn to follow a good leader. Parenting is one of the most important and hardest things one will do in a lifetime. Thus, it doesn’t take any value away from your efforts if one receives help from the community, it can only strengthen.

Speaking of accountability….

As a product of the FWCS System and Allen County inner city youth myself, I still “keep my ear to the street.” Tharp is the executive director of the Bedrock Youth Academy, who also happens to work for FWCS, so I felt it pertinent to ask my compelling question. I had the opportunity to speak with Tharp directly after the funeral services for Alonna S. Allison who was taken suddenly at age 17. Tharp said that the service was full of emotion and people, almost 900 he guesstimated. Many have proclaimed on social media—and I even saw an article on—praising her good character and accounting for the hearts that are broken due to her untimely departure. So, it put my panties in complete knots to know how FWCS as a whole reacted to the situation at hand. Tharp cautiously stated, “Be sincere or don’t comment at all,” when I spoke with him about FWCS accountability for the community letdown.

It was explained to me, and I feel it just to explain to the community, that it is policy for school children not to wear anything to commemorate the death of a classmate for their own safety. Tharp confessed to the ripple effect of violence and decline of such violence due to said such policy being in place. We agreed that it is difficult for someone who doesn’t relate to or hasn’t eaten from our same table to tell the rest of us what should be on the menu. In the heat of the moment things seemed unjust, but at the end of the day things were done for the safety of the students.

In turn Bedrock Youth Academy is changing the A.R.E.A through the vision to create an eternal bond, inspire a drive for excellence, and produce a generation of leaders that will change our communities. BYA invokes “Accountability” by creating levels of mentorship that promote a positive application of responsibility. They are “Redefining Athletics” through promoting physical awareness by training the mind and body. The program advocates “Exposure” while maximizing the cultural experience to expand upon each individual’s vision of themselves. And all of this primarily is done by stressing the importance of excellence in “Academics”. These are the facets of change for MSK and MBK.

Fort Wayne BYA is serving 200 of your underprivileged, at risk youth grades six through 12. Of those, 67 percent are African American, 16 percent Latin American, 12 percent multiracial, three percent Asian American, and two percent Caucasian. BYA has goals for 100 percent of their members to be prepared for college and graduate from high school, and 90 percent of MBK/MSK participants to show GPA improvements for the 2015-2016 school year. They acknowledge that secondary education is not for everyone, but that is a personal choice. It should not be a decision that is devised from lack of resources.

“And the LORD said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.’”—Genesis 4:10

As readers of the Word, the Bedrock Youth Academy founders also heard this crying and have been working on silencing it for almost ten years now. Martin, who is the program director, enlightened me that BYA is not the program that is going to help your child for the moment and then move onto the next—BYA is FOREVER!

When asked what the future holds for the program, Tharp responded in so many words that one day there will be a safe residential place where children can learn, grow and thrive without the distractions of a negative society or mainstream media.

I wanted to share with you all what BYA has done and is doing, for they are My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper.

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Frost Illustrated is Fort Wayne's oldest weekly newspaper. Your Independent Voice in the Community, featuring news & views of African Americans since 1968.

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