"But the plain fact is there are some Americans who, in the aggregate, are consistently doing worse in our society—groups that have had the odds stacked against them in unique ways that require unique solutions; groups who’ve seen fewer opportunities that have spanned generations. And by almost every measure, the group that is facing some of the most severe challenges in the 21st century in this country are boys and young men of color."
When President Barack Obama uttered those words at the launch of his new initiative, "My Brother’s Keeper," he did so with the intent of helping ensure boys and young men of color in the United States have the opportunity to reach their full potential. That of course, includes African American young boys.
Prior to this exciting new initiative by President Obama, another powerful initiative had already been functioning and has been making tangible differences in the lives of young Black males all across the Greater Houston area. That initiative is called Project Forward.
Founded by Deric Muhammad, Project Forward is a program, with a mission to unify Black men and boys by pumping life into existing organizations and creating a platform for new and budding young leadership in the African American community across the Greater Houston area.
According to Deric Muhammad, Project Forward is focused on empowering the African American community by embracing virtues within the community such as; Each One-Teach One, Respect for Life, Supporting Black Businesses, Circulating the Black Dollar, Embracing Education and Organizing for Justice. It is the "one-on-one" mentoring of young Black boys that is a critical component to the initiative.
One of the major aspects of Project Forward is the Little League Off-Road Team. The Little League Off-Road Team, which is headed up by Bruce Jackson, has become an exciting new way to mentor young Black males and provide them with an alternative to the streets.
"I had never thought about incorporating this component into Project Forward, until Bruce brought the idea to us and had so much passion about what he was doing," said Muhammad. "I had never seen a dirt racetrack in the back of a grown man’s home, so when I saw it for the first time, I was blown away. Taking active young boys on a race track to play with sophisticated off-road vehicles and teaching them to repair it when it breaks down is a skill they will never lose."
Jackson, 37, is an entrepreneur and made sure that when he built his new house in the neighborhood he moved to, that it would have to have a custom-built dirt race track in the backyard, because he wanted the kids in the neighborhood to have something to do and stay out of trouble. Jackson always had a passion to reach young kids by giving them the opportunity to race cars, because it is what kept him out of trouble as he was dealing with some serious personal and family issues.
Muhammad and Jackson met to discuss developing a racing team and once they agreed, they put their personal monies together to purchase the first couple of vehicles. Jackson is the head coach of the team and ever since he was a kid, he has been heavily into cars and was always curious about how they functioned.
"When I was younger, I always wanted a remote-controlled car, but my mother could never afford one because of our economic situation," said Jackson. "I never will forget the day that my mother told me that she had saved up enough money and was going to sacrifice and buy me a car when I was 13 years of age. I was so appreciative and it was on that day that I became hooked and wanted other young kids to experience the same thing."
When Jackson got older, he was able to save up money to purchase a more professional remote-controlled car and began going to race tracks and participating in various competitions.
"It became a serious hobby for me, but it was also therapeutic for me as I dealt with the things I was going through in my life," said Jackson.
Learning how to work with small tools and fix on the vehicles and its equipment became a source of therapy for Jackson because he was dealing with the separation of his parents and the realities of his father battling crack-cocaine addiction.
"My father battled crack-cocaine addiction for years, but he always was in my life and encouraged me to stay busy and learn how to do things," said Jackson. "When I see these kids around the neighborhood doing nothing, I know how easy it is for them to get caught up in the wrong activities, so as long as I have a house, I will make sure as many kids as I can impact, have a place to come."
Jackson says that most young boys are intrigued with being outdoors and being active, and believes that this program gives them the opportunity to make noise, go fast, use their hands and be mentored at the same time.
Pastor E. A. Deckard, Sr. Pastor of Green House International Church, is a community partner with Project Forward and believes that it is a much needed initiative that will give young Black men something to do.
"An idle mind is the devil’s workshop," says Pastor Deckard. "I totally support this effort, because if you can put something in our young men’s hands that is productive and constructive, it will keep them busy and prevent them from putting guns and drugs in their hands as an alternative."
According to Jackson, the target group for this program is 10-15 years of age, but they are willing to work with young Black teenagers of all ages.
Every day, we are overwhelmed with news reports, case studies and new messages about the plight of our young African American males and the challenges they face in Americas. Whether it is murder, violence, education, unemployment, health, or issues involving law enforcement and criminal justice, our minds are constantly inundated with information to remind us how bad things are for our young Black males.
With an innovative program like Project Forward, there is hope that these negative indicators and this pessimistic outlook concerning our young Black men, will be counter-balanced by the success stories that come out of such a powerful and much-needed community initiative.
The Project Forward Little League Off-Road Team meets every second Saturday in Trinity Gardens from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and for more information about Project Forward you can visit www.projectforwardhouston.com