WINNSBORO — Yellow and black bow ties traversed the halls and cafeteria at Fairfield Middle School and Gordon Odyssey Academy on Tuesday.
Students and adults learned to tie the bow ties Saturday at an orientation for the District’s Bow Tie Club. Around 50 people attended the Saturday introduction meeting that included the mothers of the boys in attendance. But from now own, the mothers must drop the boys off and come back and pick them up.
The group’s organizers said keeping the group all male provides a dynamic to encourage boys to have conversations that they might feel awkward having around women.
Well-spoken, well-dressed, well-read, well-traveled, well-balanced — these are the five “wells” of Benjamin E. Mays that middle school students are learning to sound off upon request during their first week in the club.
Founded by parent Tony Armstrong along with support from Vernon Kennedy and Superintendent of Schools J.R. Green, the Bow Tie Club includes around 30 men who mentor to middle school boys. The club meets two Tuesdays per month during the youths’ lunch break and meets on the third Saturday of the month.
“This club is a good fit for any young man, be he a challenge to (adults and teachers) or not. We are basically here to assist youth as they navigate the journey from young adulthood to manhood,” Green said.
Armstrong, the father of three daughters, said one of the goals of the Bow Tie Club is to prepare the young men to compete globally for jobs. Another goal is to reinforce habits and ways they can grow up to be productive members of society and solid leaders of families and the community.
“What can we do to enhance the lives of our young men?” Armstrong asked. “That is the question.”
For him it starts with tying a bow tie but the group is more than a trendy fashion club.
Saturday, the participants watched the Phil Allen video “When I Became a Man” that used a poignant monologue to show young men what to aspire to become when they grow up.
“This has nothing to do with whether or not area dads are doing their job,” Green said, “but this is a way to help those fathers and as a father, I can tell you, you can never have too much help.”
Parents in the audience seconded that sentiment and several mothers said this type of support has been long needed in Fairfield County.
The boys and men donned black and gold bow ties, Griffin school colors. Ties were provided to all volunteers and students by the school district and supplied by Price’s Drugs. The program draws inspiration from Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, a spiritual mentor of Martin Luther King r. and leader of Morehouse College.
The boys will study Mays’ life, read the Rudyard Kipling poem “If” and later in the year will participate in an oratorical contest (part of the well-spoken component). Trips will include outings to Charleston, Charlotte, Greenville and Greenwood (home of the Benjamin E. Mays museum). Green said the Charlotte trip likely will include tours of college campuses and visits to historic sites.
Students only expense is spending money for the trips they take, but Green said in cases of financial hardship even that would be taken into consideration. Boys need to wear a dress shirt and bow tie to the meetings and trips.
Mentors are not paired with a particular student but instead they are encouraged to meet with various students during different lunch periods and to build relationships naturally over time.
Those relationships will help the students learn more about compassion, civility and integrity as well as perseverance.
“Tying a bow tie is a lesson in perseverance,” Green said. And he insisted all the boys wear a tied tie, not a clip-on which he said “was for second-graders.”
A special table was set aside for the bow tie club members Tuesday. Green and Armstrong said so far around 130 boys have signed up. Green said high school students are welcome to join in on Saturday activities if they choose and that the Bow Tie Club likely will partnership in some ways with the Extraordinary Kings mentoring program that takes place at FCHS.
Armstrong said the group is open to more men and encouraged anyone interested in the group to contact him or Green.