Niagara Gazette

April 10, 2014

DELUCA: Young men at the summit

Michele DeLuca Commentary
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Not too long ago, Earl Bass was one of the young men in attendance at the annual Male Summit.

He remembers being a skinny kid, full of energy, listening to all the mentors and role models who gathered to inspire a couple hundred high schoolers. Bass, now 26, a Niagara Falls firefighter, will return to the summit Friday as a presenter.

He’s hoping his story will inspire his audience the way he was inspired when he was their age.

This 16th annual gathering of men was the brainchild of Niagara Falls Housing Authority director Stephanie Cowart, inspired by her membership in the Buffalo alumni chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, which sponsored the first summit that she co-chaired in Buffalo.

I remember covering the Falls summit a few years back and being mightily impressed by the energy of the event. It was full of engaged and excited boys, surrounded by patient, smiling adult males who shepherded them through the various seminars, guest speakers and a delicious looking lunch. It reminded me of my son’s all-boys school in Kenmore — St. Joe’s Collegiate Institute — the first place I’d ever encountered where young men en masse were respected, supported and loved.

As the mother of sons I know that it is most challenging for a boy to grow into a good man without the presence of a good man to show him just how it’s done.

On Friday, the Doris Jones Resource Center will contain many such men, who will give of their time to help lead the way for dozens of Niagara Falls high school boys.

We should be proud of this program. It’s quite unique for a housing authority to be engaged in community building, but Cowart tells me that it’s all part of the mission of her agency. “Most housing authorities only involve themselves in the housing piece, providing safe affordable housing,” she said. “We take this more comprehensive approach to housing because we can’t be successful unless we effect the whole person.”

“Right now we’re looking at cutting off that school to prison pipeline,” she added. “And we will do whatever it takes to engage young men in positive programs and introduce them to positive male role models so they can do whatever it is they were created to do in their lives.”

The high school provides transportation to those who choose to attend the event, which offers seminars on a variety of matters, from health to relationships, to spirituality and job readiness. Lunch will include a speech from Paul Lancaster, director of player engagement for the Buffalo Bills and overseer of each player’s personal development, who is expected to share his own journey.

Eric Fields, resource building supervisor, has directed every one of the summits, and he loves the event. “There’s a lot of talented young men out there — a lot of smart ambitious driven young men that want a lot of good things for themselves,” he told me. “We always see in the media everything negative. This event gives you the faith and hope that the future will be strong.”

Young men like Earl Bass, who made the resource center their second home, are proof. While speaking appreciatively of the upbringing provided to him by his mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, he also expressed gratitude to the authority’s resource program which widened his world. “I was able to go to plays and sporting events, and I learned how to play chess,” he recalled. “One of the things the housing authority (also) taught me was that even though you were a resident you didn’t have to stay there — that it was only a temporary thing.”

Bass, 26, is now in the process of buying his own home. I guess you could say he’s heading to the top of his own personal summit. And Friday he’s going to show a lot of other young men the way.