In a welcome deviation from the degrading and false portrayals of Black men in the media, a group of 100 men in Hartford, Connecticut gathered outside of an elementary school to encourage returning students on their first day of school.
Standing in a line outside of Martin Luther King Elementary School on Aug. 25, the men gave children high fives as they stepped out of cars and buses, willing them all to have an amazing school year. The group, organized by Pastor AJ Johnson and Attorney DeVaughn Ward, decided to greet the students in an effort to dismantle the damaging stereotypes of Black men in America, while simultaneously making sure youth in the Hartford community started the school year on the right foot.
Among the men present were lawyers, judges, CEOs, dentists and doctors; a sea of suits, with a few men in scrubs and police uniforms.
For Ward, it was important for the students to see the men in their professional attire. “We wanted the youth to see us as professionals in whatever capacity that’s in,” Ward said. “We wanted to give them something to aspire to.”
“We cheered like it was the Superbowl game,” Johnson gushed. Ward said the highlight was seeing “the twinkle in their eyes and the smiles on their faces.”
The effort was a welcome one; according to NBC, the elementary school is located in the poorest zip code in the state. And amid a stretch of violence — the city witnessed its 24th homicide recently — parents and city officials are trying to uplift the residents, the outlet reports.
“All these kids see is homicide after homicide,” Johnson, who is a community organizer and pastor at Urban Hope Refuge Church, told NBC. “These kids need to see something a little better than what they’re getting. At that school that morning, these kids got the opportunity to see what the rest of their lives can be — not on TV, not on the Internet, but right there in front of them.”
The show of solidarity with the students even elicited tears from parents who were dropping their children off. From APlus:
[Johnson] recalls one of the men who came out being in his 50s or 60s, and had seen the height of the civil rights era. He turned to Johnson and told him, “Brother, you’re on to something.” A mother of one of the little girls who attends his church came back in tears after dropping her daughter off.
“[She] was just in tears and said ‘this is beautiful.’ “
The meet and greet is just one of many that have occurred around the country in an effort to get students excited about the upcoming school year. And while Martin Luther King Elementary School’s event was successful, Ward and Johnson aren’t done inspiring the community. The two are currently discussing ways they can encourage students through mentorship initiatives.
“I hope it sparks something within us to take our own community back,” Johnson told NBC.
We applaud Johnson, Ward, and all the participants for encouraging the youth and breaking down stereotypes.