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Black Methodist denominations unite to help young males

Members of AME, AME Zion and CME churches met in Columbia, South Carolina, last week, at what organizers called the Great

The three major black Methodist denominations are making young black men their priority. About 7,000 members of AME, AME Zion and CME churches met in Columbia, South Carolina, last week. They believe the church needs to play a larger role in helping black males so they don't become negative statistics. It's the third and final day of what organizers called the Great Gathering. A partly-filled but enthusiastic arena crowd is listening to Bishop Warren Brown. "Now, we recognize that oftentimes we feel that we will deal with our young black men in the 8th or 10th grade, and that's too late. We've got to work with them out of kindergarten," Brown says. It's the first time the three major black Methodist denominations have formally met since the Civil Rights Movement. Altogether, they have about 7 million members. Now, they've formed the Black Methodist Coalition to focus on helping young black males. "We will be deceiving ourselves if we believe because we want to good that people are going to flock to us and say, 'Here I am. Make me over,'" Brown says. He tells the audience that help will come in the form of Saturday Academies at black Methodist churches. These would be a series of six-week workshops to help students do better in school and raise awareness of their career and education options. A mentor would be assigned to each participant for at least a year. "I don't want to suggest that every black man is going to prison, or be a dropout, but on the other hand far too many are," Brown said in an interview after his speech. According to the Justice Department, the incarceration rate for black men in 2008 was 6.5 times that of white men. A Northeastern University study shows that, nationwide, about 21 percent of African Americans dropped out of high school in 2007 Up in the stands of the Carolina Coliseum, the Rev. Verlon Anderson of Fayetteville is glad the churches are united in addressing these problems. But he also thinks it's too late to help many young black males. "It's unfortunate, but for those over 16, there's very little we can do for them. But we still have those young babies coming up and have to stop being afraid of our fear and go back and take responsibility for the mess that's been created." He says there are too many single-parent homes. U.S. Census figures show that nearly two-thirds of African-Americans kids are growing up without their biological fathers in the home. In West Charlotte., 17-year-old Reggie Davidson doesn't hesitate when asked the challenges facing young African-American males in his neighborhood. "That ain't got no father figures. Ain't got no father figures. Nine times out of 10, everybody got no father figures." He's hanging out on a corner Beatties Ford Road with a group of friends. They're not doing anything really, just talking to people as they enter and leave a restaurant. Davidson grew up without a father. So did 21-year-old Canchez Lindsay. "I graduated without him, I got a job without him. I get my money without him - the good way - but some people without a father are a loose cannon." Lindsay likes the idea of Saturday Academies at churches. He believes a lot of parents would get their kids involved. Down the street, Antwan Mobley is walking his 1-year-old son and a niece to a nearby Food Lion. Growing up, he attended what his church called Super Saturdays. Mobley says those Saturdays have helped. "Even if I got off the right path, it wasn't hard to come back to fellowship." Back at the Great Gathering, Bishop Brown is under no illusion that the Black Methodist Coalition will solve all problems, but he adds it will make a make great impact if it can get just a few guys off every street corner.