When it rains, it pours. That was the case last Saturday in Charlotte as I accompanied the Griffin Bow Tie Club on an excursion through rain-soaked streets. But the weather did not dampen the enthusiasm of members of the Griffin Bow Tie Club.
It has been a while since I helped chaperon a group of middle schoolers and I must say that these young men were well behaved overall and represented their county well.
The trip was a first for many of them because it included travel by light rail. Many of the boys said they had never ridden on a train before, this despite the South Carolina Railroad Museum being in their hometown.
In a nutshell, that example is one of the pillars the Bow Tie Club is built upon — providing opportunities and new perspectives for young men who might otherwise not have them.
We visited the NASCAR Hall of Fame and before we went in, the boys on my bus were given homework. They had to find out who Richard Petty was and if he had a mustache. When I asked a few of them at Carolina Wings about the King, they proved they had paid attention and were not only talking about Petty but about David Pearson, Cale Yarborough and Bobby Allison.
They did hands-on activities like pit crew simulations, racing simulation and racing video games. Students tried out tools and learned about templates and just how much is stock in a stock car. Sportmanship, fair play, ingenuity, safety, team work. These are just some of the motifs the Hall of Fame visit touched upon.
Admittedly, these 12- to 14-year-olds were a bit out of place in the art museum at the Harvey S. Gantt Center. After a few reminders to keep their voices down and some giggles subsided, Superintendent J.R. Green had a teachable moment to explain more about the connection between life and art.
The exhibit coincided with a video presentation on what it means to be black and male in America today. Videos alternated on four different television sets in the room but in the back of the room, poster sized video feed of men looking on, stared at the audience.
The effect was palpable.
It felt, to me, as if I stood inside the world of the black men speaking, at least for a moment. Economic disparity, mistreatment and prejudice were some topics covered. But so were topics like black men being less likely to seek preventive medical care or to receive therapy and treatment for mental illness.
Faces replaced statistics in a way that kept it real and showed these young men (and the chaperons) a slice of life of which they may not otherwise have been fully aware.
Lunch and the bus ride home gave us time to talk about sports, music, hunting, girls or whatever was on the young men’s minds.
One young man told me quite candidly on the bus ride home what his experience with race relations was: He just wanted white folks to leave him alone and not interfere with his opportunities for success. I could follow his reasoning to an extent.
He said he wanted to give people a chance to like him and vice versa but in 13-year-old perspective, he just said that people need to stay “out of his grill, his lane.”
There were times in middle school when I wanted the same thing, though the kids were primarily white I wanted to stay out of my lane.
We had around seven adult men on the trip and 62 youth. There are around 125 young men in the program. In a county where seven of 10 young men are born to a home without a father, there is a real need for programs like this to help bridge a gap and give kids a chance.
The biggest thing I took away from this trip was how little seventh grade and eighth grade has changed since 1991.
The same humor, the same need to be all grown up one minute and yet have a lot of kid in you the next, the same kind of insecurities and yet the same need for acceptance — all those things exist in spades.
It’s a hard road to navigate and is unlike everyday adulthood as kids bodies are changing and they mature at different rates. I certainly have even more respect for middle school teachers after Saturday. And I plan to chaperon more trips with these young men.
Other men in the community, will you join us?
Kevin Boozer is a staff writer for The Herald Independent and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed in this column are those of the writer only and do not represent the newspaper’s opinion.