By Shelita Dalton, Terrytown Columist
More than 500 middle school boys in Algiers gathered last week to hear and be mentored by a panel of influential male leaders in the community as part of the second annual “Living the Dream” program’s celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Keynote speakers included U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, New Orleans Saints players Malcom Jenkins and Leigh Torrence, and a host of others.
A group of students from Alice Harte Elementary Charter School wait for the ‘Living the Dream’ program to begin.
The event took place at O. Perry Walker College and Career Preparatory High School in Algiers.
Richmond reminded the audience that King’s dream is not the main reason he is celebrated.
“The reason why we celebrate Dr. King is not his dream, but it’s the work he put into making that dream a reality,” Richmond said. “The decisions you make as a young African-American male are going to go with you for a long time.”
He also talked to the students about the importance of being surrounded by the right people.
“You can choose to be great or you can choose not to be great so you can be cool with your friends,” he said. “If you’re the smartest person in your group, find a new group to hang with. If you’re the only one doing the right thing in your group, find a new group to hang with.”
Jenkins agreed. “Be careful about who you hang out with and how you spend your time and make sure you keep your goals in mind,” he said. “One of the things I learned is, the first thing you want to do if you have a dream is write it down and put it somewhere you can read it every day and to make sure your goal is specific. So, instead of saying you want to graduate from high school, you can say you want to graduate with a 3.0 or a 3.5.”
Torrence reminded the students of the many opportunities they have to become successful.
“Our opportunities are great and there is nothing that’s going to stop you from doing any amazing thing that you want to do with your life,” he said. “The excuses are over. The idea that the chances aren’t there for you or that you can’t become something or do something great is absolutely ridiculous.”
Crime Commissioner James Carter told the group of their God-given abilities to accomplish great things.
“I want to tell you young men that from a very spiritual perspective, we all recognize the words, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, but did you also hear that he made you and I in his own image?” he asked. “So, if God made us in his own image and likeness, that gives you awesome power to not only finish school but to be leaders in this particular community. And no matter where you come from or what your situations are, you are precious in God’s eyes.”
The panelists also admonished the students to think outside the box when it comes to their goals.
“A lot of people are telling you if you don’t make it in the NFL, NBA or get a song on the radio — the three or four things everybody glamorizes nowadays — that you’re not a success,” Torrence said. “Success is measured in so many more different ways, like having a family, having the respect of your neighbors and your peers, being a man of character, a man of integrity and a man that a person can count on. All of these things mean a lot.”
The young men were also advised on the importance of nonviolence.
“I’m worried about the number of violent acts that are taking place between and amongst young African-American men,” Landrieu said. “People that are killed or being killed are young men who have decided they are going to settle their differences with a gun. Put down the gun; don’t shoot, because you don’t have to. There is a way to resolve differences without shooting somebody.”
Landrieu also reminded them of their duty to turn their lives around after making mistakes or being dealt a bad hand in life.
“We spend a lot of time in our lives complaining about how we got where we are,” he said. “There’s an old message that says if someone knocks you off of a chair, that’s on them, but if a week later you’re still on the ground, that’s on you. That’s a message about responsibility.”