Obama, Emanuel recognize Chicago youth guidance program - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Obama, Emanuel recognize Chicago youth guidance program

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Increasing graduation rates and decreasing student violence is the goal of "Becoming a Man," a program targeting at-risk boys. The group has received high-profile stamps of approval for their work and success rates.

President Barack Obama has recognized "Becoming a Man" for its work and now Mayor Rahm Emanuel plans to raise millions to expand the program.

The University of Chicago crime lab followed the group's participants for a year and they reportedly had 44 percent fewer arrests for violent crimes and a 23 percent better chance of graduating than their counterparts.

"I recommended it to the President when he was here who also spent some time with the group of young men at Hyde Park High School that this program is going to be growing quite quickly," Emanuel says.

President Barack Obama honored the participants during his last visit home.

Each "Becoming a Man" member is assigned a male mentor who infuses moral and character. Harper High School honor student and sophomore Ronald Ligon, 16, is just one of the group's 600 participants who meet at their respective high schools daily.

"We do a check in. We use PIES. P for physical, I for intellectual, E for emotion and S for spiritual.," Ligon explains. "Becoming a Man actually enhanced my abilities to do leadership roles."

It also kept him off the streets and out of gangs despite his surroundings.

"If I'm walking to school I'll have to check my back every now and then and make sure nobody is trying to rob me or something," Ligon says. "I worry about others who don't have support in their lives because what if I didn't have that type of support."

The program is infused with mentors like Timothy Jackson who left a corporate job to head "Becoming a Man" at Harper.

"It's really impacted their lives. They have so much more optimism now than they had before," Jackson says. "I love it. I got tired of hearing people say that somebody needs to help the kids."

Mayor Rahm Emanuel tells FOX 32's Tisha Lewis he's determined to expand "Becoming a Man" and boost the group's membership.

"Which is why I've launched this effort to raise $50 million over the next five years to invest in these types of activities. I have seen people that use to say, ‘it's not in my neighborhood, it's not in my part of the city, it doesn't affect my life,' kind of shrug their shoulders, who say 'I've heard about it before, that's just life,' step up and say ‘ok, what do I have to do? How do I help?'" Emanuel says. "They're at a critical point and that program intervenes with a mentoring, nurturing environment that keeps them on the straight and narrow."

The mayor wants to expand the group from 17 to 40 schools and increase its membership to thousands. The University of Chicago's crime lab determines which schools have the most at-risk students and decides where "Becoming a Man" will target. Members are also trained in martial arts and wrestling. Researchers have noticed a boost in participants' school attendance.

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