Bobby declares a hard-line policy in his relations to girls: ``Kissing? Yes! Sex? No!''
At 12, Bobby (whose real name has been withheld because he is a minor) may be a bit young to be talking about having a girl friend and sex, say people of his parents' generation. He may be a bit quaint to his own generation, however. He says so, himself.
``I remember a wild party we were having,'' he says. ``One girl grabbed me, started hugging and stuff. She pulled me into a room and closed the door. She was ready for more action, but I said no. Some of my buddies told me I was too slow.''
Bobby practices what is preached to him at ``Black Manhood Training: Body, Mind and Soul,'' a pilot project of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans. He is among 500 boys, 12 to 17, in a program that tells them to go slow with sex and to be real men by developing their minds as well as their bodies.
As to why he said no, Bobby says:
``I learned what could happen if I followed the crowd. I could get venereal disease. The girl could have a baby. And for me that would mean getting a job to support the baby, and quitting school. I learned I could avoid this drama by not having sex.''
Did Bobby lose the girl? ``No, she liked me,'' he says. ``And I like her, too. We get along swell.''
The New Orleans Black Manhood Training program is one of more than 100 projects that the National Urban League has been nurturing in the past two years in what it calls its special appeal to young black men to become responsible as single fathers.
The Urban League reviewed the program's progress at a recent conference in Atlanta.
``Our manhood and fatherhood program is both preventive and corrective,'' said Ed Pitt, the program's national director. ``We are reaching out not only to black boys and men, but to parents, to church, civic, and grass-roots organizations.''
Last summer the New Orleans Urban League operated a program designed to serve 500 boys, ages 13 and 14, from local public housing projects. It included job training that paid each boy $50 a week. For eight weeks they are guided by counselors and inspired by role models, usually professionals and leaders in the black community.
The New Orleans program, called Rescue I, was supported by the mainstream community - $250,000 donated by the private sector, including funds to pay the boys for working.
A cable-television grant permits the boys to participate in TV discussions on such youth concerns as why young people drop out of school.
``Most important of all, we had to provide good male images if we were to succeed,'' Emmett Jefferson told the league gathered in Atlanta recently to discuss its pilot manhood programs. ``It takes persistence and a great selling job to find boys and adult males to participate. It's rewarding to hear them say they are happy to be a part of Black Manhood.'' Mr. Jefferson is a counselor in the New Orleans program.
To the National Urban League, manhood training is a prototype other communities may easily follow. ``We offer no magic formula for solving the teen parenthood dilemma,'' insists John E. Jacob, the National Urban League's president. ``But we do encourage community-based organizations to join us in returning males to the black family.''
``It's a blessing to me to see the changes these boys are making,'' says Henry Falls, a church deacon in New Orleans.
Getting into black manhood training did not lose buddies for Raymond Crump III. ``We play ball and everything,'' he says. ``We have fun.''
But Tyrone McGovern, 16, was faced with peer problems because of his manhood training. ``One girl asked what was wrong with me. I used to run with guys to steal. Now, I've cleaned up my act. Mamma's glad! She likes my good grades in school. I'm just beginning to proclaim my real manhood. I can be myself. I've changed my way of doing things.'' Several friends have followed him into the manhood program, he says.
Michael Staes Jr., 17, says he is no longer a bad dude. ``I've changed my ways since I joined Manhood, but in my heart I always did want to change. My friends have changed, too. It's caused me to be a better person. I looked to Mr. Jefferson, my counselor, for advice.''
``The Manhood program showed me how to be responsible, to be a man!'' says Kenneth Matthews, 16. ``I was messing up in school; now my grades are OK. The girls and I didn't get along. Now we do. I get along better with my family. And the men here really helped me a lot!''
[Editor's note: This article has been changed from the original to protect Bobby's identity.]