Young men attend mentoring program

‘Yes Conversations’ aimed at opening dialogue with teens

Young men from across West Alabama spent March 10 being mentored at “Yes Conversations for Men” at the Theo Ratliff Activity Center. From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., they experienced six different sessions to inspire them and help them grow.

Sixty students ages 12 to 18  from the area attended sessions on sexual assault in the classroom, college and job readiness, marijuana possession and use, financial literacy and sexual health. They also attended a session called “Barbershop Talk” in which young men asked their own questions and learned how to tie ties.

“It’s giving them an outlet to have conversations that they might not otherwise have,” said Joy McCambell Craddock, an organizer for the event.

Craddock also said that session leaders and male volunteers were “super excited” to get involved and mentor these young men.

“They were happy to have had the opportunity to engage with the students in that manner.”

According to Douglas Craddock Jr., Ph.D., facilitator and session leader for the event, “Yes Conversations” started in 2014 as a response to the Obama-era “My Brother’s Keeper,” which is an initiative launched in order to address the opportunity gaps that boys and young men of color face.

“It allows them to see individuals outside of their purview, and it exposes them to opportunities that they might not know they had,” he said.

According to D. Craddock, “Yes Conversations” is more than a one-day event. Mentors establish connections with students to continue helping them. Mentors also hope to have a town hall meeting with community leaders to address the concerns seen at the sessions.

“It’s about mentoring and respect but also about building a communication line that didn’t exist before Saturday,” he said.

“Yes Conversations” events have been held in Tuscaloosa, Pickens, Hale, Greene, Sumter and Wilcox Counties. In Demopolis, “Yes Conversations” was organized by the Friends of the Theo Ratliff Activity Center, the Choice Foundation and the Blackwire Project. Alabama Power sponsored the event.

Alabama Power also donated $10,000 each to the Friends of the Theo Ratliff Activity Center and the Choice Foundation.

Edward Ward, Director of the Theo Center, said that the funds could be used for a number of things such as another parking lot, lunches for the kids during their summer program, a smartboard in the computer room or to apply for grants.

“We have outgrown ourselves here at the Ratliff Center and need to get a matching grant, and this would be a great start for that,” Ward said.

D. Craddock said that he hopes to hold another “Yes Conversations” in Demopolis this summer.

(This article originally appeared in the Wednesday, March 21 issue of the Demopolis Times.)