Strong men help us save ourselves


They cooped you in their kitchens,
They penned you in their factories,
They gave you the jobs that they were too good for,
They tried to guarantee happiness to themselves
By shunting dirt and misery to you.
You sang:
Me an’ muh baby gonna shine, shine.
Me an’ muh baby gonna shine.
The strong men keep a-comin’ on.
The strong men git stronger…
— From “Strong Men” by poet Sterling Brown

You’ve heard of Black men who leave their wives or girlfriends. Children, too. You’ve heard of Black men who leave the community by committing crimes and getting locked up, where they languish while gaining new criminal skills to come back and commit crimes all over again.

Opinion: Strong men help us save ourselves

But have you heard about the husbands and fathers who stay and serve as role models, not only for their children, but for other men’s as well? While we’re at it, have you heard of Black men who not only stay and help make a house a home, but who work tirelessly to improve lives in Black communities with almost no acknowledgement from mainstream media or much support from financial backers, Black or White?

Oh, you’ve probably heard of Don Samuels, Minneapolis city council member; Clarence Hightower, executive director of the Minneapolis Urban League; Matthew Little, former head of the Minneapolis NAACP and senior contributing writer for the Spokesman-Recorder; and Spike Moss, activist — all strong, longtime advocates.

But have you heard of V.J. Smith, head of Mad Dads? He and his volunteers walk the streets talking and praying with young brothers and helping to keep the peace.

Ever heard of Wayne Hunter? He’s the violence prevention coordinator at Phyllis Wheatley Community Center, the oldest Black agency in Minneapolis. There, he counsels young men sent to him by Hennepin County Probation, giving them knowledge and tools to control their emotions and to become more loving husbands and nurturing fathers.

Or, how about young Will Wallace? He’s a former gangbanger who quit the gun-toting, drug-slinging street life and is now working — as he puts it — “to show these young brothers some love and put ’em on the right path.” Just add these men to the growing list of brothers who have traveled down a long road of community service with many footprints before them.

James Muhammad, project organizer for 100 Men Taking a Stand, an organized effort that comes out of Family and Children’s Service, knows these brothers and more. In fact, he knows so many that he formed an organization, The Sons of Bransford, to celebrate them and their work.

The Sons of Bransford — sometimes lovingly called The SOBs — gets its name and inspiration from James Bransford, a now-retired Hennepin County officer who became legendary for getting around red tape and racism to steer many a brother away from prisons, and for teaching other Black men to do the same. Many echo Muhammad’s words when he extols Bransford as “a paragon of resilience, like many of us who are sometimes down but refuse to be counted out and dare to live and tell our story.” The Sons of Bransford began as a way to honor Bransford and soon evolved as a forum to honor other elders as well. But honoring elders, says Muhammad, is not the only objective.

“What we want to do is make the connections between the elders and the young folks doing work in the community. That’s why The Sons of Bransford will honor Kwame, Erik and Gary.”

Kwame McDonald is a Humphrey Fellow, a member of the African American Leadership Council, and a Spokesman-Recorder columnist.

Erik Mahmoud is co-founder and president of SEED Academy and Harvest Prep, two alternative schools on the North Side of Minneapolis.

Gary Cunningham is the former CEO of NorthPoint, a health and wellness center on the North Side of Minneapolis, and vice president and chief program officer of the Northwest Area Foundation, an important funding source in Minnesota.

All were honored at the second annual S.O.B. celebration on June 30, 2007.

What it is

If we are to be saved, we must save ourselves. Others can help, but the leadership and the direct service work must be done by us. Along the way, we must identify, encourage and celebrate those brothers who never leave family or community, but stay and work to improve Black lives every day.

Why? Because strong men “keep a-comin’ on. Strong men git stronger.”

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