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Youth from across America join Million Man March

By Sope Aluko/Howard University News Service
On October 25, 2015

Credit: Robert Eubanks/District Chronicles

“What does justice and brotherhood mean to you?”

Principal Aaronthomas Green posed this question to the 5th through 8th graders at KIPP Polaris Academy, an all-boys school in northeast Houston, Texas.

Based on their responses, 30 boys earned a free trip to the nation’s capital for the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, joining thousands of people who traveled from all over to be part of the historic event.

The Rev. Jummane Bradford, program director for Mentoring to Manhood in the Kentland area of Landover, Maryland, brought a group of young men from his program.

Bradford attended the 1995 march as a Morehouse College freshman. He said it was an unforgettable experience for him and he wanted to share it with a new generation.

Many of the boys in the Bradford’s program do not have adequate father figures and needed to see the positive examples that the march provided.

“I think this event is one that is a rite of passage for our young men,” said Bradford. “Many of the things that they will be seeing here today will solidify what we have already been showing them.”

Roshaude Williams, 18, has been in the program for two years. He says the most important message he learned from the speakers at the march was about developing good character.

“Honesty and being respectful are very important, because they revolve completely around your character,” said Williams. “When I have children, I will help them avoid being a part of the nonsense with these lessons I learned today.”

Alexia Lindo, 13, a student at KIPP Bridge Charter School in Oakland, California, traveled nearly 2,500 miles with 15 other students to be at the March.

Lindo, who has two brothers, said she was inspired to come to the march after reading about the deaths of unarmed Black men like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown and Oscar Grant.

Principal Aaronthomas Green (foreground) and his group
of 5th through 8th grade students at the
Justice or Else rally in Washington D.C.

“I don’t know them personally, but those could have been my older brothers,” said Lindo.

KIPP is an acronym for Knowledge Is Power Program, which was founded in 1994 by two Teach for America instructors and has grown into a network of 183 public schools across 20 states and the District of Columbia.

The program helps underserved kids from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade gain the skills that will allow them to be successful as students and in the real world.

KIPP Polaris in Houston is the first same-sex school in the entire KIPP system. It is 51 percent African American and 47 percent Hispanic. Seventy-nine percent of its students qualify as low income.

Those were the factors their Green said motivated him and his assistant principal, Marvin Pierre, to bring boys from their school to the march.

To pay for the trip, Green and Pierre launched the campaign “Beyond the Hashtag: Building Strong Boys into Socially Conscious Young Men,” on PledgeCents.com. By the time the trip rolled around, the campaign had raised only a third of the $30,000 needed.

Still, on the morning of Oct. 8, the team headed to the airport. For 25 of the 30 students, it was their first flight.

Juan De Dios Diaz, 13, said he was inspired by the speakers to work on being a better student and leader. He said he eventually wants to attend Texas A&M and study engineering and he has also learned the importance of women to the community.

“I learned that you should always respect a woman, because she is someone who gives birth to you,” said De Dios Diaz. “I don’t consider myself a great leader, but for the kids who didn’t get to experience this, I plan on taking what I learned back to them.”

Green said while the march had an effect on his students, it also made an impression on him.

“When I get back to Houston, I want to ensure I am living the mission, vision and dream that was set forth today,” said Green. “I want my boys to see that this is bigger than just who they are. I want them to answer, ‘What can you do as one individual, as a group of 29 others, to make your local community better?’”

Green’s fund campaign remains on www.pledgecents.com.

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