By Alex Perez
Their name reminds many of the once-popular group of singers, but this band of brothers is more about teaching success than singing.
Boys to Men was founded at Aurora East High School in 2002, a year that saw 25 people in that city killed by violence. The mentoring group’s founder says the idea was spurred by emotion and anger.
“We realize that no matter what race you are, no matter what side of town you live on, every boy wants to become a man,” said Clayton Muhammad. “We got so tired of going to funeral after funeral of young people, we should be going to graduation parties.”
In about eight years, Boys to Men has spread to a dozen suburban area schools and about 200 young men have been through the program. All of them graduated high school, and the majority went on to college or the military.
Meliton Chaidez is a Junior member. Boys to Men helped him get a poem he wrote about his father into the Library of America. The soon-to-be seventh grader said his mentors have taught him a lot about what’s life is like as an adult.
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“Not everything is having fun,” he said. “Sometimes you’ve got to work hard to have fun.”
Tavis Gibson, 18, became involved with Boys to Men when he was in fifth grade. He’s since graduated from Yorkville High School and is headed to Victory University in Memphis, Tennessee.
“The friends and the decisions I was making, I was headed in the wrong direction,” said Gibson of his life before Boys to Men. “When you’re surrounded by greatness you really have no choice than to confirm that same status, so it pushes me.”
The Aurora Beacon News dubbed Boys to Men the anti-gang. The group teams up with other agencies to offer tutoring and guidance. Full membership is open to young men between eighh and twelfth grades, but they must commit to attending Sunday night meetings at least twice a month.
Muhammad believes just having the young men meet each other — many of whom come from single-parent families and have lost friends to violence — is a huge step to realizing they are not alone in their struggles.
“To be able to have a peer to reach out to, and to relate to, makes a world of difference. Because now they have someone who’s ‘been there done that,’” he explained.
Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez believes Boys to Men has helped diminish the number of offenders who end up behind bars.
“If they respect themselves they respect others, ” he said. “Clayton [Muhammad] is sowing seeds and now these young men are sprouting trees out of seeds. Gang affiliation and the senseless killings and drug deals will really be a thing for the past of this community, that’s really the ultimate goal.”
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