Young Black men and boys, who are trapped in some of the most challenged urban communities, seldom interact with successful Black men-or even see a positive image of what they could become.
About 100 middle and high school students gathered in early June at an auditorium on the Hunter College campus in Midtown Manhattan for that opportunity.
These are "the most challenging students-with potential" from New York City public schools operated by The Urban Assembly, a college and career-focused nonprofit organization that empowers underserved youth.
Urban Assembly's director of social and emotional learning, David Adams, told NewsOne that about 75 percent of its students live at or below the poverty level and have overcome myriad adversities.
The ability of professional Black men to connect with these students and hold their attention was on full display at the workshops organized by the nonprofit organization The Black Man Can.
Geo Derice, a seasoned motivational speaker, showed a video from Iverson's famous rant about how little practice mattered to him. It was an event that captured the media spotlight 15 years ago when these students were toddlers.
In contrast, the video showed clips about Bryant's work ethic: taking 400 practice shots a day, training four hours daily during the season and maintaining a strict diet.
After showing the videos, Derice pointed out that Bryant won multiple championships and receives praise as one of the best to play the game. Iverson, while still highly regarded, won no championships and, some would argue, failed to reach his full potential.
Derice told them one of the keys to a successful life is putting oneself in a position to have good options.
"I don't know what they say about these students outside this room, but what I saw was a group of young men who were attentive and engaged," Derice said.
He added that they simply need someone to talk to them in a way that's relevant to them. "They are open to reading and learning, but they don't see school as a place that will get them from where they are to where they're going," he stated.
Brandon Frame, a Morehouse College graduate, is the driving force behind the scene. He's the founder and CEO of The Black Man Can, which started as a blog in 2010 and has become a movement. His idea was to build a network of Black men-whom he dubbed MENtors-to be inspirational role models to disadvantage Black boys and young men.
He's built an army of more than 200 volunteer MENtors who have connected with over 3,500 students. They are executives and entrepreneurs, directors of nonprofits and retirees with a wealth of life experience. What they share is a passion for helping young men, who are not much different than they were years ago.
Derice, who has a nonprofit called 20/20 Living Inc., said he wanted to team up with Frame because he's impressed with the program.
"The organization speaks to who I am," he said. "We uplift young Black men by pouring into them positive images of Black men at an early age. That's something I didn't have growing up."
This event was the organization's 44th training institute since March 2013. Workshops over the course of the day included one on learning how to start and grow a business, taught by a successful entrepreneur. In another workshop, the boys learned how to set goals and help solve community problems.
The day ended with the institute's signature ceremony, in which the young men receive a necktie-the first for many of them. And they learn how to make a Windsor Knot, or how to tie a necktie.
Frame's partnership with Urban Assembly was instrumental to organizing the event. He said Urban Assembly brings validation and resources to his newly minted 501 (c) (3) nonprofit, as well as providing students who would most benefit from a day of connecting with role models.
Adams said Urban Assembly is focused on increasing graduation rates at its schools. To that end, The Black Man Can inspires its students to excel. Black students, he added, need to believe that they can succeed.
"What I appreciate deeply is that Brandon is putting out an image of Black men that does not have to be around slam dunking, or football, or rapping," Adams stated. "He's putting out images of Black males who are from the community and contributing in ways that are different from the ways our kids are used to seeing."
Some of the young men wore their new tie to school the next day and held eye contact with their teachers while shaking hands, Adams reported. They told him that it felt great to be in a space with Black men who cared.