Young men find road to manhood Obama reflects on faith
By Rohan Preston
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
MINNEAPOLIS — Taylor Williamson's world was thrown into tearful confusion two days before Christmas last year. His father, the Rev. Kenneth Williamson, died in Minneapolis. Gripped by grief and fear, the younger Williamson, a senior at Jefferson High School in Bloomington, Minn., fretted that he would be unable to cope.
But he found support through his family and with a cadre of newfound brothers in the Rites of Passage program. On a recent Saturday evening, Williamson and 19 other young men, all with their own stories of struggle and striving, marched triumphantly into the ballroom of the downtown Minneapolis Marriott to the sound of African drumming. All had completed the six-month coming-of-age program.
"It was a shock to lose my dad, but doing this and going on to college is the best way to honor him," said Williamson, misty-eyed. "He would have been proud of me tonight."
The young men, smartly dressed in tuxedoes, were participants in a 90-minute ceremony in which they symbolically parted ways with childish things. When the rites were over, they walked out of the Marriott ballroom robed in the garb of African kings and released into manhood by teary-eyed parents and mentors.
"I just knew that I had to bring a box of tissues tonight," said Yolande Bruce, the well-known singer/actor whose son, Miles Davison, was one of the initiates. "It's been a blessing to watch Miles and his friends arrive at this point."
The initiates, academic achievers who also stand out in the arts, sports and service, came from across the Twin Cities area.
"What I love about this (program) is that it gives us all a chance to connect across different schools," said Kasey Boyd, a hockey captain who has lettered in track and field and now plans to study astronomy and physics at Dartmouth College, where he was accepted early.
Davison, an international baccalaureate diploma candidate, has been accepted to Texas Christian University, his first choice. He said that Rites of Passage has also offered sobering advice.
He recalled a visit to a correctional facility that was part of the six-month regimen.
"I had seen jails on TV, but it was nothing like being there," Davison said. "Even just entering the lobby area, you know that's not a place you ever want to be. Ever."
"When you look at these young men who are at the threshold of adulthood, it's humbling and inspiring," said event co-chair Shelley Carthen Watson. "We want to support them so they can make their contributions to our society."
"There is a lot of attention focused on kids in trouble, but we wanted to honor the guys who were doing right," said Rites of Passage co-founder Linda Baker Keene.
As in the first year, this year's initiates were paired with mentors with whom they discussed career interests, including prominent lawyers, judges and educators. The young people learned about men's health, finance, time management and business etiquette.
Since its inception, the rites program has had nearly 200 graduates from public, private and charter schools. Almost all have gone on to higher education and to professional careers.
At the Marriott, the solemn ceremony blended rituals from different religious and cultural traditions. Candles were lit to symbolize the seven guiding principles of Kwanzaa, the black holiday that celebrates such values as unity (umoja), self-determination (kujichagulia) and faith (imani).
The young men and their mentors also participated in a libation ceremony, drinking from cups containing honey, salt and vinegar.
"We want them to know our wish for them is to have sweet lives," said the Rev. Dwight Seawood, who presided over the event and is also pastor of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church.