Last month’s fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher by a Tulsa police officer cast a shadow Thursday over the Manhood Summit, an all-day workshop designed to help young black males make a successful transition to adulthood.
“Black young men in America, you’ve got the odds stacked against you,” Tulsa attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons told the more than 100 students, most of them eighth-graders from area schools, gathered at the Cox Business Center.
“We are here for you. We understand what you’re dealing with,” said Solomon-Simmons, who is representing the Crutcher family.
“We’re here today to let you go beyond the odds, the obstacles and the opposition that you will face as a black man in this country. We’re going to stand with you,” he said.
“You have to be two times better. You have to be 15 minutes early. You have to jump higher, run faster. Don’t you ever forget it,” said Solomon-Simmons, who co-founded the sponsoring MVP Foundation with his wife, Mia Fleming.
Fleming said that recent events have been difficult for young blacks.
“The images that they’re seeing, and the videos that are playing over and over again with these shootings, it hits really, really close to home,” she said.
“We just want to make sure that these boys know that no matter what’s going on, ‘we love you, we support you, and we’re here for you. You can still be a success despite all the odds that may come against you.’ ”
In an animated afternoon session, three black Tulsa police officers created role-playing scenarios with the students to illustrate how to handle encounters with police, and answered their questions, some of them directly related to the Crutcher shooting.
Officer Donnie Johnson said he will often stop to talk to people just to see what’s going on in the community.
“The reaction I get is, ‘Why are you bothering me?’ ”
He said young people should show respect not only to police officers but to all adults, including their parents, and if they have a problem with police, they should talk to their parents about it.
Cards passed out to the students listed 10 rules of survival if stopped by police, including: be polite and respectful; make no sudden moves; keep hands in sight; stay calm; do not resist arrest; do not argue; remember that your goal is to get home safely; do not run.
The Rev. Phil Armstrong, with Metropolitan Baptist Church, said some black youths may view police officers as a threat and run from them because of negative encounters they have witnessed involving police and other family members.
Keith Miller, with 100 Black Men of Tulsa, one of dozens of adults who attended to support the students, urged them to “change how you see yourself. … change how people see you. It may save your life.”
William Coleman, a teacher at KIPP Preparatory School, brought 20 eighth-graders to the event.
“They love it,” he said.
Coleman said the event was particularly important in light of the racial unrest in the nation, and the recent shooting of Crutcher, whose daughter was one of his students last year.
“We’ve experienced a lot of heartache,” he said. “They have a lot of questions to ask about the situation.”
He said being able to talk to men helps the students “come up with a point of view. This is very powerful for them.”
Students from Booker T. Washington High School who had attended the event in previous years came to the summit as mentors to the eighth-graders. They wore black shirts that read “Men of Power” on the front, and “I am my brother’s keeper” on the back.
One of them, Booker T. Washington junior Christopher Grant, said he served as a mentor because, “It’s good to make a difference. You can change a life. That’s why I appreciate the organization, and that’s why I’m here.”
Another, BTW senior, Mekhi Singleton, said, “I love it. It’s a great event.”
“I think it changes the perspective that minority young men have on what it is to be a man; what it is to be cool. It shows them the right way.”
Trevin Corona, an eighth-grader at Monroe Demonstration Academy, said he found the summit “inspiring.”
“I learned that when someone trash talks to you, how to react appropriately,” he said.
Armstrong taught the opening session, titled Manhood 101, on the importance of a firm handshake and looking people in the eye.
Before the time of written legal contracts, he said, men entered into a contract by shaking hands.
“What made you a man was the ability to keep your word.
“Your word was your bond. Your good name was considered gold.”
He said a good handshake, and looking people in the eye, conveys respect, honor and dignity.
“Something as simple as a handshake determines how people will perceive you,” he said.
The day included a lot of practical advice.
Armstrong taught the boys how to tie a necktie, and other sessions covered how to use tools; how to handle money; how to administer CPR.