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Mfume talks to youth at HCC Summit

The Honorable Kweisi Mfume was the keynote speaker during the 2011 Men to Men Summit, April 5-6 at The Centre at Halifax Community College (HCC). This year’s summit theme was “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?” and Mfume addressed this question and talked about the importance of male empowerment in transforming the Roanoke Valley. This was the fourth annual summit sponsored by the PRIDE of Halifax Male Mentoring Program. There were an estimated 500 participants for this year’s event.


Mfume is a former U.S. Congressman from Maryland and past president of the national NAACP. He highlighted various issues in today’s world including unemployment rates. Although the reported overall unemployment rate is 8.8% nationwide, it is 18% for the black community and 23% for black men under 20 years old, reported Mfume.


“I know some of you came because you didn’t have a choice, some of you came because you were curious and some of you are here simply because you are trying to figure stuff out and need moments and opportunities like this to do that,” said Mfume.


In his remarks, he acknowledged his past professional accomplishments, honorary degrees he has received and boards on which he has served. He also presented the story of his childhood and early adult life, which presented a very different picture from what one might expect.


Growing up, Mfume was the oldest of four children from a placed called Turner’s Station outside of Baltimore, Md. “I was born into a very poor community,” he said. The area was across from a steel mill; it was segregated and poor and had a lot of issues. “Nobody had anything, but everybody had some love,” he said.


The family later moved to Baltimore. He had an abusive stepfather who eventually left the family. His mother worked two jobs. The closest person who resembled a father to him was a man named Mr. Charles who later revealed that he was Mfume’s biological father.


When he was 14, Mfume’s mother developed cancer and struggled with that illness for two years. Mfume described his mother talking to him each night during those years in an effort to teach him about responsibility, race, and life challenges. After his mother’s death, Mfume dropped out of school and worked odd jobs. As he saw others around him living the life he wanted and thought he could not have, he grew angry.


He was recruited by a gang and lived that lifestyle for four years. “I was empowered, but in the wrong way,” said Mfume.


“Everyone has that one person who’s in your head…Every time you’re about to do something wrong, you see their face,” explained Mfume. In the middle of a craps game, he heard his mother’s voice, saw her face and knew that he had let her down. He was 22 at the time.


Mfume prayed all night that night. He then decided to leave the gang, but as he acknowledged, “You don’t just turn in your resignation.” After several attempts on his life by gang members, Mfume left that lifestyle.


He earned his GED and took a minimum wage job to provide for his siblings. Then, he was accepted into a community college. Although he was afraid he would not be able to succeed, he finished the program and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree. He was on his way to law school when he decided to run for office.


“That’s what empowerment is. There were countless numbers of men and women throughout my life who loved me more than I loved myself,” he added. “We believe that empowerment has got to be the real deal…I want you to do well. It’s a tough world out there.” He encouraged people to help others and give back as well.


Also during the event, the inaugural What a Passion—What a Vision Award was presented to HCC President Dr. Ervin V. Griffin Sr. for his work with the program.


“I’ve had some difficult issues to deal with all my life,” said Griffin. “That is why we work so hard to try to provide a venue for young men. This is a lifelong passion.”


Other summit guest speakers included Network Development Specialist for Fathers in Focus Montre’ Freeman, PRIDE Wellness Coach Wes Johnson, author and NC State University Professor Dr. Bruce Bridges, and Reed LoRenzo Shannon.

  Mfume talks to youth at HCC Summit  
  The Honorable Kweisi Mfume was the keynote speaker during the 2011 Men to Men Summit, April 5-6 at The Centre at Halifax Community College (HCC).