RED HOOK — Darnell Thomas recently launched a monthly "empowerment group" at the Summit Academy Charter School to try and combat the kinds of negative messages he says too many of the male students may hear.
The program, called "Brothers Need Each Other," launched Oct. 27. It is held Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. once a month, and includes discussions, guest speakers and trips to sporting events.
The debut program last month featured talks by minister and former college football player L. Bruce Campbell, and Brooklyn Spartans football coach Claude McCammon.
"A lot of times, black boys feel like they're spoken down to," said Thomas, 36, a longtime educator and lifelong Brooklyn resident. "Young men, they feel, 'At home, I'm spoken to this way. At school, I'm spoken to this way.'
"But the difference is, a lot of the homes of these young men, they're [run] by the mother," Thomas, the Summit Academy's dean of scholar life, added. "So that's where the breakdown is — the lack of male role models, or the fatherly voice or the fatherly presence in the household, which leads to a lot of frustration in the school. 'Being talked down to by women, I go through this at home, and now I'm going through this at school.'"
The program and its discussion topics are based on Hill Harper's Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny. An actor and motivational speaker who was raised by his father, Harper offers advice for young men on topics ranging from school to work, sex, relationships and single parenthood.
"He peels back in layers how he never had a productive relationship with a female because he was not raised by his mom, so a lot of times he didn't feel like he needed a woman," Thomas said.
"When it's just the mother's voice in the household, there are only certain things that a mom can do," he added. "Studies show that between the ages of 11 and 14, young men tune out women's voices. They block them out."
As Campbell and McCammon talked with 17 boys at the program, Thomas spoke with the eight parents who attended about how best to talk and communicate with their children.
"A lot of our parents are at this moment a little bewildered to interact with their children," Thomas said.
Summit Academy is also planning a series for female students titled "My Sister's Keeper." That program is being developed by the school's director of learning support, Jenice Richardson.
The next "Brothers Need Each Other" program takes place Dec. 15.