Positive Futures: Learning How to Be a Man

THE Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts has two programs targeting young males: Positive Futures, for adolescent and pre-adolescent boys; and Young Fathers. Another, Scholarship Builders, includes both boys and girls.

Alonzo Foster, 13, has been in Positive Futures, an after-school program for 9- to 14-year-olds, since October. Looking proud and shy in a gray suit at a forum held by the Urban League, he describes Positive Futures:

``It's a program at school that enables young men to learn about their past, what happened in the '60s, how to be a man,'' he says. ``UNITY [Understanding Needs in Today's Youth, a volunteer black women's organization] came to talk to us about how women like to be treated. I thought they were just like us, but now I see they have special needs.''

Positive Futures, which started in 1986, works out of two Boston schools now, but director Harold Sparrow would like to see it expanded to four more.

``The need is there,'' says Mr. Sparrow. ``At Grover Cleveland Middle school, we had places for 30 boys. At the presentation, 200 showed up and 120 signed up. So the need and the desire are there.

``We asked each one what he thought was most difficult in his life. Most of them said, `the violence.'

``A lot broke down and cried. At that age, 9 to 12, drugs are anathema to them; they've seen the bad side of it.

``They're at an age where we can reach them; they're looking for direction.''

Sparrow says he's seen some improvement in the students' grades and ``they have a different aura.

``One day school got let out early and no one in administration told us so we could come in earlier. We got a call from one of the kids who said they were all in the library. `We'll be here waiting for you,' he told me.''

The Young Fathers program, for 15- to 22-year-olds, started in 1986. The 30 youths in the program deal with subjects ranging from sex-education workshops to job skills.

``We look at the total package, low values, low self-esteem,'' says director Harry Wilson. ``Those things foster dropouts, criminality, and unplanned pregnancies.''

Wayne Smith, 20, participates in the program. Six months ago, he won custody of his two children, one a year, the other three months old. Young Fathers is helping him learn how to take care of them.

``You bring your children in so they can see if you know how to change diapers and have a positive attitude about the child,'' says Mr. Smith. ``I've learned a lot about responsibility for myself and for the kids. ``[There's] a workshop twice a month, and sometimes I drop by the office after work.''

He reproduces blueprints and documents for Boston's Central Artery - Harbor Tunnel project.

``Before I joined the program I thought I was in a class by myself,'' Smith says. ``Now I see people in my own age bracket in the same predicament.''

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