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There's a certain stereotype that follows men of color collectively, wherever they go, no matter what they do. It's the notion that they're deadbeats, thugs or just simply not that involved in their community.
DeVaughn Ward and Pastor AJ Johnson know these stereotypes all too well, so they planned an event that puts those notions to shame — just in time for the first day of school. After seeing a group of men in Georgia greet kids on their first day, Ward and Johnson knew they had to bring the idea to their hometown of Hartford, Conn.
The men created a call-out group on their social media pages called "Calling All Brothers" and asked the men of color they knew to tag others. Their goal? Form a group large enough to greet the children of Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School on their first day. And do it wearing suits.
"In an urban community, people say that black men [aren't] valued or there aren't enough black men doing something," Johnson told A Plus in a phone interview. "I wanted to prove everyone wrong."
Two days later, on the morning of Aug. 25, 50 black men gathered and formed a greeting line for the kids. A little later, there were 100.
They cheered and high fived the kids as they walked through. The kindergarteners were a little apprehensive, but the older kids were having a blast.
"They were running through like they were at the Super Bowl," Johnson recalled with a laugh.
Johnson told A Plus that that particular school has lots of kids from the inner city area, most of which are children of single mothers. He wanted his fellow black men to be there not just to break stigmas, but to show the kids themselves that the men in their neighborhood really do care.
"For a group of well-dressed men to be there meant a lot," he said.
He recalls one of the men who came out being in his 50s or 60s, and had seen the height of the civil rights era. He turned to Johnson and told him, "Brother, you're on to something." A mother of one of the little girls who attends his church came back in tears after dropping her daughter off.
"[She] was just in tears and said 'this is beautiful.' "
When asked if the recent events regarding police brutality and black men's portrayal in the media affected Johnson's decision to organize the men to do this in any way, he agreed what happened on Monday morning is exactly what America needs to see.
"The way the media portrays us is that we're thugs. We don't know how to dress, we don't have anything. If you leave it up to Fox [News], we'd just be viewed as nothing," he told A Plus. "For this image to get out of well-dressed men coming together, its what the country needs at the moment."
Johnson's not the only one to realize it either. After the event last week, he says a group of the men went to another school that same day to greet the kids afterwards. He sees a real momentum and plans on going a step further.
"I would like to organize these 100 men for real power in our community," he said. "It started with us coming together under the umbrella of the children, but it's my intent to bring power back to a powerless neighborhood through these men."
With a graduation rate of just a 47 percent graduation rate for black men and less than 1 percent of fortune 500 companies led by black CEOs, it's a change that's long overdue.
Johnson is tired of waiting for those in power to do anything about it, so he's going to try.
"It takes initiative, if you want to see something done, we cant wait for anybody else to do it."