A line of young men makes its way into a hushed ballroom. Fathers, mothers, mentors and friends dressed in traditional formal African attire eye the ones they raised, chided and guided. The solemn tuxedoed processional suddenly breaks into a choreographed syncopated march of youth making their way into manhood. This is Rites of Passage.
Ten years ago, Linda Keene had a young son making his way into adulthood. She got an idea from a couple of friends of hers who celebrated this milestone with their sons by finding mentors to help the young men put together a picture of what a man should be. The relationship between the young men and the mentors culminated with an Afrocentric ceremony. Keene and her husband grabbed on to the idea for their son and used resources such as the National Rites of Passage Institute manual to gather additional information. They approached friends in the Minneapolis Chapter of Jack and Jill and encouraged them to turn this into an event to celebrate young African American men. With the support of Jack and Jill members such as Stephanie Crosby and her husband, Henry Crosby, the event moved from an intimate family gathering to a recognized annual landmark event.
The program is designed to promote an understanding of African value systems relative to developing a positive lifestyle; awareness of the significance and importance of being a responsible man or woman in today’s society; self-awareness; and positive conscious behavior toward immediate and extended family. The participants engaged in retreats, life plan development, journaling and mentor relationships to learn more about themselves and their role as responsible men. The seven principles of Kwanzaa – Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and Imani (faith) -are also incorporated into the program as a guide for daily living.
This year, 18 seniors from various high schools participated in the Rites of Passage program. Participants included Devin Benjamin, Captain of the Varsity Football Team for DeLaSalle High School, honor student and Science Award recipient; Gregory Jackson, Concert Chair for the Chaska High School Orchestra, member of the Twin Cities Youth Symphonies Philharmonic Orchestra and Assistant Scoutmaster; and Jordan Taylor, Captain of the Benilde-St. Margaret Varsity Basketball team, member of the National Honor Society and three-year recipient of the Minnesota State High School League Academic Achievement Award.
Janie Westbrook, mother of participant Jarrett Westbrook, knew of the program and insisted that her son be a part of it.
“Having witnessed first hand the journey the 18 young men took from beginning to end in the Rites of Passage program, I am extremely impressed and proud of them all for their commitment, their support of each other and their future goals and endeavors. I am also thankful for the Minneapolis Jack and Jill chapter for caring enough to embrace and sponsor a Rites of Passage program. There is no doubt in my mind that this program has made a impact in my son’s life and future,” said Westbrook.
Jarrett Westbrook, a top-ranked Minnesota State Track and Field athlete and aspiring graphic designer, will attend the University of Wisconsin – Stout in the fall majoring in Industrial Design. Of his involvement Westbrook said, “I appreciate the support of the community around the positive values in the lives of African American young men and the genuine role models both male and female.”