ENGLEWOOD — When Royce Bell, a student at Wentworth Elementary, scans the neighborhood "all I ever see around here is men standing on the corner pulling their pants up, smoking weed and selling drugs," he said.
"I sometimes say to myself, 'Why don't they go get a job or do something other than hang out on the corner?' the 14-year-old adds. "But there's not much to look at in Englewood."
All this month students like Bell are getting an upclose and personal look at something many rarely do: the lives of successful black men.
As of Monday, 69 men have participated in Daniel Wentworth Elementary School's fourth annual 100 Positive Black Men program, which aims to provide black male role models to students. The volunteers speak to students, act as hall monitors or contribute by doing "whatever they feel comfortable doing," said Wentworth Principal Dina Everage.
The program, which drew 167 men last year, began May 1 and ends May 30 at Wentworth, 1340 W. 71st St. On the final day, all the men return for a luncheon and program. There are no requirements to participate in the program, which runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays.
"One of the biggest issues in Englewood is our young people. Their scope is so limited to the few blocks that they know and the few people in their circle," she explained. "We need to teach our children that the small part of the world they see in their neighborhood is not the norm."
She added that there are some dynamic men in Englewood and some of the participants are Wentworth parents.
"The only way to get to [be] the greatest is to know how it looks, feels and sounds. And that's what these men are showing students," Everage said.
Seeing the men come to the school and give positive advice is refreshing, said Bell, an eighth grader at Wentworth.
The teenager never met his father and said he used to feel sad on Father's Day, but not anymore. And Bell's 34-year-old brother has never met their father, either.
"I have gotten over him," Bell, an Englewood resident said of his long-lost father. "I don't put that much energy into thinking about him anymore."
Bell said he "would like to meet him one day, though."
"Maybe after I grow up and become successful in life I can meet him so he can see I made it without him," the teenager said.
A group of musicians were among the volunteers at Wentworth Monday, and Zipporah Jackson, 14, was able to sing with the group.
"It was fun singing with them. I think this program is good because it gives kids, who might not have a father at home, a chance to hang out with father figures," said Jackson, an eighth grader and Englewood resident. "My mom is a single parent but I have a relationship with my dad. But everyone can't say that."
For the men volunteering they said it was an opportunity for them to give back to the community.
Volunteer Darwin Jackson, 46, lives in west suburban Maywood and works for the airline industry.
"I think every principal should start a program like this. It is important that we help our youths reach their full potential no matter how bleak their chances may look," Darwin Jackson said. "As men we must try to help them just like somebody helped us along the way."
Joseph Johnson is a 36-year-old professional musician who lives in Austin. He said times have changed for kids growing up without a father.
"We need people standing up for our children. I grew up without my dad although I did have a stepfather and uncles who kept me on the right path," recalled Johnson. "While not impossible, it is hard for any young boy to grow up in Chicago and be successful if he does not have any positive, male role models in life."
And Sunni Powell, who lives and owns a barbershop in Englewood, told a group of boys, "If you need some money don't go out here and steal it. Come to my shop and I will put you to work and pay you."
Wentworth teacher Ladonna Williams applauded the program and said she could tell which students do not have fathers in their lives.
"Usually they're the ones misbehaving the most," said Williams, a special education teacher. "I would love to see this program duplicated at other schools because there are so many of our students who do not have positive, male role models they can go to."
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