The saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Meaning when the parents can't fulfill the child rearing responsibility, others step in to help out.
FOX 5's Wisdom Martin, along with our partners at AARP, found some pretty high powered celebrities stepping in and stepping up.
The statistics are staggering. 47 percent of African American males won't graduate. 1,000 African American teens are arrested every day. 57 percent of African American boys are being raised in fatherless homes.
But behind every statistic, there is a little boy -- lost. Von Harris read these words from an essay he wrote to Steve Harvey.
"Not having a father in my life has played a big part,” says Harris. “I haven't had the opportunity to have someone that I can talk to about being a young African American male in today's society. My father showed me no love. He beat me and starved me to the point where you could see my ribs."
It is a hard story to hear and even harder for this D.C. native to have lived.
"When I first received Von, he was six weeks old," says his grandmother Joyce Tutt.
Now 15, Von's grandmother says the scars of a then abusive and now absent father have had negative effect on him.
"He doesn't know his father,” she says. “He never sees him. He's not allowed to see him. He's not allowed to have any contact with him. And I think deep down inside that bothers him."
In other parts of his essay, Von writes about why he wants help.
He wrote, "I don't want to be a better person only for myself, but for my family. I just want a chance to change."
Entertainer Steve Harvey is giving Von and thousands of other boys across the country that chance.
After he sent in that essay, Von was invited to participate in a mentoring weekend at the Harvey Ranch in Dallas.
Harvey greeted the young men on the first day.
"You all are going to meet some interesting men out here. Welcome to the ranch fellas," he says as he drove off on his ATV.
The boys are paired up with mentors from the military and celebrity titans like Denzel Washington, music producer Jermaine Dupri, sports legend Dave Winfield, and DIY host Ahmed Hassan.
Hassan led break out sessions with the boys.
"I was telling these guys are at the ages of 13 up to 20 years old you can start being serious about life and playing the game and making those choices as soon as you decide you want to. The choice is yours,” he says.
Harvey says his parents' influence inspired his choice to get involved in helping boys without fathers in their lives.
"It was a combination of my mother who was saved and a Sunday school teacher and my father was a coal miner, a construction worker and a numbers runner,” he explains. “He taught me the hard work ethic and the hustle factor and my mom taught me the belief in God and the power of prayer.”
For him, it was a winning combination. Harvey is a successful game show host, author, has his own radio show, and of course, is a big name in standup comedy.
But when it comes to giving back, Harvey says his commitment is no joke.
"My mom always said God blesses you so that you can become a blessing," he says.
And he is hoping to be just that to the boys, by teaching them everything from grooming, to healthy living, and a sometimes tougher lesson to learn -- respect.
"When it gets dark out here, it gets dark. There are no street lights. And when we have trouble with a boy, we take him out there in the woods and talk to him out there. When he comes out them woods, he's a different child. He's so attentive," he says with a big smile and a wink.
Changing the attitudes and life direction of these boys is a family effort.
Daughters Brandi, Carlie, and Morgan organize sessions for the moms during the weekend.
And Steve's wife Marjorie always attends for support.
"You have so many different boys, different backgrounds, different situations and some of them come here very angry," Marjorie says. "It's critical, but we are trying to change things. We are trying to change things."
It is a change that Von is already seeing in his own life. He shares one of the lessons he learned from the camp.
"If there's no struggle, there's no progress,” he says. “So you'll go through hard times, but don't give up through the hard times. Keep going."
The deck may be stacked against boys who grow up without a father, but for Von, this mentoring intervention was just what he needed.
Von entered the tenth grade this year at National Collegiate Prep where he is making good grades and plays quarterback for the football team.
You can even the playing field by getting involved. Here are some links to mentoring programs in our area and to Steve Harvey's Foundation:
Big Brothers Big Sisters National Capital Area
BEST Kids Mentoring Program
Boys to Men of Greater Washington: What is the Boys to Men
Steve and Marjorie Harvey Foundation
WTTG FOX 5 & myfoxdc
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