Bacon, eggs, and some coffee to go along with breakfast, please. These are a few of the menu items ordered by a small group of men who are making a big difference in Minnesota’s Northland community.
They call themselves the African American Men’s Group of Duluth. There are eight members present during this first Saturday morning in September. They meet here at the Embers on Duluth’s West Side the first Saturday of every month, and what they discuss and vote on affects the welfare of many young people of color in this Northland community.
The restaurant’s owner, Tom, greets them enthusiastically, as does their waitress. They’re familiar with the good deeds of the group and are happy to help accommodate these men who represent a full spectrum of trades, but with several common threads.
One, they are all volunteers. Two, the members of the African American Men’s Group all live in Duluth. And three, their common purpose is to help Black youth find their paths to success.
“The hurdles that Black youth face in the Northland are huge,” said Carl Crawford, a Lake Superior College intercultural services coordinator and member of the group. “The professional African American male is invisible in this community.”
According to Crawford, Black youth in Duluth have the highest number of high school dropouts, as well as the lowest number of college graduates.
“If these numbers were reversed [between Black and White students], it would be catastrophic,” Crawford noted.
Duluth is home to 87,000 people according to a 2006 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. The survey reports that 2,200 Duluth residents, or 2.5 percent of the city’s population, are Black or African American.
The University of Minnesota-Duluth reports that 22 Black students earned a bachelor’s degree during 2007. The College of St. Scholastica — the other major college located in Duluth — reports that 12 Black students received their bachelor’s degree in May 2008.
With respect to high school graduates, the school district of Duluth reports that out of 44 Black senior students throughout the district, 30 of them, or 68 percent, graduated with a high school diploma in May. The other 14 students are considered “drops,” but as the school district reports, this doesn’t necessarily mean they dropped out of school. The students may have transferred to a different school, for example.
The Men’s Group works to make connections with these Black students at both the high school and college levels through organizations like the U of M’s Black Student Association, Neighborhood Youth Services, Boys & Girls Club, and seminars in the community.
“We especially want to teach African Americans in high school that you can go on to college, you can earn your degree and you can move on,” said Crawford.
The group started 16 years ago with the same purpose it has today. “We started in 1992 with the issue that young Black kids never had anyone to go to for problems,” said Sam McCurley, a retired railroad worker and the group’s acting president. “Just to have a male role model is a big help in a young person’s life.”
The Men’s Group has established the Allen Butler minority scholarship. Butler was the first Black police officer in Duluth. The scholarship provides financial assistance to people of color from Duluth Public Schools to begin or continue law enforcement training.
The group also gathers, prepares and provides donations to community food shelves in Duluth and has made monetary gifts to youth organizations in Duluth, as well as to high school graduates of color. At this morning’s monthly meeting, the group votes unanimously by ballot to provide $500 in grant money to a minority college student to help offset the costs of her tuition and book fees.
“Duluth has an industry of health care, education and tourism; but given the state of our economy, it’s challenging to think of ways to keep people in the community,” noted Dudley Edmondson, a group member and a nationally recognized freelance nature photographer.
The Duluth men who make up the Men’s Group all bring their unique backgrounds and skills to the table. They represent a plethora of professional experience including photography, carpentry, education, communications and journalism.
They know the challenges that Black youth face, especially in a community with few role models to emulate. “We’re not a big group, but we do the best we can,” noted Edmondson. “We have to look at the system as a whole.”
The Men’s Group welcomes all men to join regardless of profession, background or race. They will meet again next month at the same time, same place, and perhaps ordering the same menu items.
But most importantly, they will be there to do their part in providing community service that ultimately betters the lives of Black youth in the Northland.
For more information on Duluth’s African American Men’s Club, readers are invited to contact the club’s president, Sam McCurley, at 218-722-7352.
Felicia Shultz welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.