AIKEN - The rugged life of the streets lures countless boys hoping to prove they're men.
But it fails, said the Rev. Clarence L. James Sr.
"What are the criteria for manhood according to the standards of the street?" the Rev. James asked a crowd at Smith-Hazel Recreation Center on Saturday. "You got to burgle. You got to stick people up. You got to be a gangsta (and) a gang banger. None of these roles prepare you to fulfill the highest level of manhood, which is to be a husband and a father."
The Rev. James, who gave a presentation titled "Who Told You You Are A Man?" was the featured speaker at the Men and Boys Conference that was sponsored by the Men's Ministry of Aiken Second Baptist Church and attended by more than 150 people.
Program coordinator Willard Lyde said the ministry created the conference, named "Our Village Under Construction," to reach out to impressionable youngsters about the perils of gangs.
"It's an issue with people as a whole because gangs are not only in the black community, (they're in) the Hispanic community and the white community - we're learning that we've got to reach out to everybody," Mr. Lyde said. "The key thing is letting (youngsters) know we're available if they need us."
After a presentation on gang awareness by members of the Aiken Department of Public Safety, Eugene Smith of the Aiken Center for Alcohol and Other Drug Services, discussed how alcohol and drugs negatively affected his life before he was finally able to conquer his addictions.
The Rev. James, the founder and president of Youth Leadership Development Programs Inc. and the author of Lost Generation? Or Left Generation: Confronting the Youth Crisis in Black America, said he learned about fatherhood while raising six children, all of whom attended college - five of them on full academic scholarships.
"A man is by nature a builder, and all of us can think about the things that men have built, (such as) forts and fortresses," the Rev. James said. "But do you know what the greatest thing is that men have built? Families, (and) shaping the character and the destiny of their own children."
The Rev. James, who attended Harvard University and Morehouse College, said youngsters should seek the guidance of their elders.
"Find you an old man to be in your corner to teach you about manhood," he said, receiving a standing ovation. "There is no champion in any sport without an old man in the corner and on the bench. The old man can see with the eyes of wisdom what is invisible to the immature eyes of the young."
Reach Nathan Dickinson at (706) 828-3904 or firstname.lastname@example.org.