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What if the one place you were told your whole life you had to conquer in order to be successful was a place that made you feel like you had nothing offer, made you feel like you were a nuisance, and you thought nobody really wanted you there.

What options would you feel like you had in life?

What if you believed that there was very little that was positive in your neighborhood?

What if you thought you were expected to fail?

What if you made a mistake, or did something on purpose and you grew from it but you were punished for it for what seemed like forever?

What if you thought that was just the way it was and there was nothing that you could do about it?

What if you were afraid to cry because you thought that you might loose the only control you had in your life?

What if you knew better, wanted to do better and every time that you tried no one was there to show you a way, give you a chance or another option?

What would you do?

How would you behave?

What would you care about?

What if you found a refuge?

A place that made you feel like you could escape from WHATEVER in your life, a safe place to have a quiet moment, to think, reflect, a place with people who were living or have lived a similar or completely related to your experiences and circumstances.

 

A place that let you express yourself without judgment…

A place that allowed you to dream without boundaries…

A place where you felt you could take off your armor and just be you.

How long would it take for you to believe this was real?

How long would it take you to trust?

What would you do?
What could you achieve?
How would that change you?
How would you feel?
How would that spread to the people you know?
How would you behave?
What would you want to do?

 

The refuge is room 801 of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte's Center City building. Where Dr. chance Lewis gave me a tour of his exciting, technologically innovative, welcoming, towering, futuristic, lovely, sexy, beautiful, new building.

 

Dr. Lewis; in my estimation a 70s baby, is the Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Full Professor and Endowed Chair and the Director of the Urban Education Collaborative at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. That means he’s got juice, has really been handling his business and when he retires he is still gonna be able to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

Dr. Lewis provides this refuge for the young men who participate in the BTBP Community Produces Program. Regardless to what’s going in in their worlds, twice a week the young men who are our future can come physically see and touch a powerful successful reflection of themselves while having the experience of being on a college campus, "leaving their troubles behind". The Community Producers meet in the 8th floor of the towering building in a classroom befitting a visual design class.

 

Room 801 is filled with about 50 iMac computers looking like an army of I robots ready to work. The class is being led by Brian Williams a PHD student hand picked by Dr. Lewis to be the instructor of the program. Brian himself very aware of the trials young black boys face coming-of-age in this country. I observed Brian and his gentle take charge approach to his class instruction as he encourages his students to speak their minds and not stop at the problem, instead he promotes “what can you do to make it different”. I'm always amazed at the willingness of these young men to be so honest and share. It was inspirational and I know that over the course of this program year these boys will be affected positively and forever. It makes me feel good in my stomach and my heart, so much excitement; to know that the little peasy head boy from Newark that moved around the country, where most people would have predicted I would be dead or in jail had something to do with helping to provide an opportunity and exposure for young men growing up just like I did. Knowing that with the right mix of sun, water, and attention they are going to blossom, beautifully. During these times I often find myself painfully sadden that I could not, did not see these moments and opportunities with my oldest son. I imagine how things would be different "IF" I had...

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