June 02, 2016 

By Charlene Muhammad 

LAWT Contributing Writer


In front of proud mothers, fathers, caregivers, teachers, and Jim Brown, National Football League Hall of Famer, 75 high risk middle school youth graduated from the Amer-I-Can Life Management Skills Program.


Families filled the fellowship hall of the Century Academy For Excellence Charter School on May 23 to see their children receive certificates and hear the keynote address from Brown, Amer-I-Can founder.


Brown thanked the parents and guests for attending, as well as facilitators from the H.E.L.P.E.R. Foundation, who developed and taught the curriculum.


He said the program was developed with the important role of parents in mind, “so to see their representation during the graduation was very joyful.” 


He congratulated the Amer-I-Can program graduates and shared,


“I am in my opinion successful not because of the money and the football and the movie star deals, but because I have two young kids by my beautiful wife and we all get along very well,” Brown said, as he asked his wife, Monique to stand and be acknowledged.


He urged the students to accept the responsibility of self-determination.  “Your strength is in the way that you have yourself in the forefront of integrity, kindness, peace, to be loving, to be understanding, to be gentle, to submit at times when it’s not the most desirable thing to do,” Brown said.


He thanked program facilitators for their clear articulation, drive and sincerity, which are a foundation of the effort’s success. 


“When a grown man has no fear to shed tears, we’re now talking about the reality of being a human being,” Brown said. He was referring to an intimate moment involving facilitator Victor Bozeman.


Overcome with joy, Bozeman let tears flow as he detailed the hurdles the young students, such as Jack Brown, had to jump in order to finish the program.  They exhibited tremendous growth, and he wished there was time to highlight them all, he said. 


The 8th grader said Amer-I-can has taught him to stay focused in class, among other things.  “Don’t always talk around, stay in my own circle, and not get involved in anything else … It means a lot to me because it taught me more lessons than the outside has taught me,” he said.


“What the young people are saying is some of the curriculum that we learned, it opens up discussions, and the discussions have taken place where young people start talking about their hurt,” he stated.


Ansar El Muhammad and Melvin Hayward founded the H.E.L.P.E.R. Foundation to help youth avoid the pitfalls of gang life.  The men utilize best practices developed through their first-hand experiences and life skills as gang interventionists on the streets of Venice and L.A.


Both expressed the importance of intervening in the lives of troubled youth early on.  “What we’ve done today is obtain a goal that we set … to put the Amer-I-can curriculum into the hands of young people in Inglewood, throughout this country, and perhaps throughout the world,” Muhammad said.


“Despite all the external influences and what’s happening in society, our desire is to just plant the seed, and we believe that the Amer-I-can program is just another tool that a human being could reach for in their tool belt of life,” he said.


The H.E.L.P.E.R. Foundation has been providing non-profit mentoring and intervention services since 1999, according to Hayward.  “This day is really what we live for.  We know that the youth are our future, and we have to start investing in the young people,” he stated.


“We know the youth are resilient, and we know that they have the ability to do whatever they choose to if given the proper tools,” Hayward added.


The Amer-I-Can/H.E.L.P.E.R. Foundation program fit right in line with Dr. Giselle Edman’s 220 student-school’s practice of transformative pedagogy, meaning children and adults alike are changed.  This was the program’s first year there and she said they would be returning.


Edman, who founded Century Academy in 2006, advocates small schools, because particularly children of poverty do very well in them.


“I think that’s what we saw today.  Absolutely.  I think the Amer-I-Can program has brought a culture adjustment.  Instead of being rough and tough or cool or sad or whatever, it’s a culture of understanding, of community, of people working together and listening to each other, and being concerned about each other,” Edman stated. 


“Not so much of this I’m king of the mountain or I’m the queen of the prom, but more like this Amer-I-Can program has been the cement that we needed in this community,” she added. 

Category: Community