Thursday, Nov. 15, 2007

State trooper inspires Seat Pleasant youth to stay on right track

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Raphael Talisman⁄The Gazette
Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene Grant (far right) speaks with Young Men Enlightening Younger Men members (from left) Sylvester Brown, group founder State Trooper Wesley Brown and Terrance Marshall, 16, all of Seat Pleasant, on Saturday morning.
While spending six months enduring physical and mental training, Seat Pleasant resident Wesley Brown’s road to becoming a Maryland State Trooper was not easy to travel. But upon returning home and visiting young black men he knew since childhood, Brown realized for them, the road to become anything would be hard if they did not stick together.

Searching for a way to link young men in Seat Pleasant together and deter them from violent crime and drug trafficking, Brown, 21, formed the mentoring group Young Men Enlightening Younger Men in September.

‘‘I’ve known all these boys since they were little,” Brown said. ‘‘I’m basically just trying to steer them in the right direction. And I got a lot of people backing me up and supporting me.”

One of those supporters, childhood friend Dante Butler, assists Brown with the program. Butler, 22, called Seat Pleasant a ‘‘drug-infested area” and said he wished there were a group like this while growing up.

‘‘Seeing most of the guys we grew up with, most of them are still to this day dealing drugs [and] killing people,” Butler said.

Recalling memories of being expelled from high school for group fighting, Brown admits he was not always the role model he is today.

‘‘When I got expelled, it kind of upset my family,” Brown said. ‘‘So from then I had to do right. That’s why I started working, staying out of trouble and doing well in school.”

After graduating Crossland High School in Temple Hills in 2004, Brown attended Prince George’s Community College in Largo for a year and a half, majoring in criminal justice. Brown said he had a passion to become a state trooper since high school, believing the new career would promise him a brighter future. He applied to become a state trooper and was accepted as a cadet in fall 2006 to begin six months of training.

Brown, who became a state trooper this April, said he stood out, being only one of three county residents in the academy and the youngest cadet in his class.

When Brown returned to Seat Pleasant, he wanted the young men in his neighborhood to find their own direction in life. While lying in bed at 1 a.m. in September, Brown came up with the idea of YMEYM and immediately called his best friend, Codey Beverly, about his vision.

Within that same month, Brown contacted neighborhood youth and planned the group’s first outing for Oct. 27, a trip to the movies at the Boulevard at the Capital Centre in Largo and bowling at the Crofton Bowling Centre in Crofton.

Twenty-one youths attended the event and news of the group continues to spread by word of mouth. Brown said he pays out of his pocket for the youth to have these bonding experiences once a month and plans on doing educational trips and community service projects in addition to social outings.

The group assembled Saturday morning for a talk by Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene Grant in the John Feggans Center in Seat Pleasant before a field trip to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Grant’s speech was intended as a wake-up call to the young black men about the negative ways society views them. Grant said the county’s public schools spend $7,000 per child each school year, but the county spends $37,000 a year to house a criminal in the County Correctional Center in Upper Marlboro. Grant told them prisons are being built with young black men such as the ones facing him in mind.

‘‘When you’re out here committing crimes and doing things you shouldn’t do, you’re making somebody what?” Grant asked the youth.

‘‘Rich,” the group replied.

Grant said because more money goes toward correctional facilities, less goes toward projects in Seat Pleasant and similar cities for building recreation centers and fixing roads.

Though he believes crimes like drug dealing damage the community, Grant acknowledged many young black men are doing it to survive. Grant asked what happened to the African men who were brilliant mathematicians and built pyramids in Egypt.

‘‘Somebody is not helping you along the way to help you understand who you really are,” Grant said.

Grant described Brown as a light that illuminates otherwise dark corners of the community.

‘‘You’ve seen an individual has stepped out of your community,” Grant said. ‘‘It’s your responsibility to walk toward this light.”

Seat Pleasant resident Sharon Parker, Brown’s next-door neighbor, has seen him grow up and remembers even in Brown’s troublemaking teenage years there was an interest in forming a group like YMEYM. Parker, a single parent, sees the group as a perfect fit for her son, 16-year-old Kwimane Dumas, a childhood friend of Brown’s.

‘‘He sees that he really needs a man’s touch,” Parker said. ‘‘Wesley lives next door, so he used to be at my house every day. He’s probably one of the first ones he recruited. He knows that he has Wesley to talk to.”

Dante Butler told his younger brother, 14-year-old Bratrell Hawkins of Temple Hills, about the group and said it is a good way to meet new people and learn how to support community members.

‘‘If you’re not involved in something you might as well be in something like this,” Hawkins said. ‘‘It puts you on the right path for the future.”

Beverly assists Brown with the program. Beverly said he would like a similar program for young women, which requires seeking adult women to volunteer their time. But for now Beverly, 21, helps Brown focus on the boys, especially ones in the middle school age range.

‘‘They’re so young,” Beverly said. ‘‘They have more time to make better decisions. Can’t say the older ones can’t do the same thing. It’s more of a start for them to be on the right path.”

E-mail Natalie McGill at nmcgill@gazette.net.

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