Corey Grubbs, Isaiah Wyatt, Jason Oden and Ben Carter all have full time positions at Canton City Schools, families and full calendars, but since the fall of 2015, they have taken on an additional task that may rightfully be thought of as a calling - the McKinley Men of Honor.
Last year, the four men acted upon their understanding that male students of color in Canton City Schools needed additional supports. They each brought a different passion to the work - college and career readiness, responsibility and ownership of choices, accountability and exposure to the wider world.
They began with a group of 30 young men at McKinley Main Campus and expanded the strategy to 15 additional students at the Freshman Academy in 2016. The students who began the program last year have continued, and new students have replaced graduating seniors.
"We have an app that allows us to communicate directly with the students about events," Jason explained. Perhaps most important are the relationships the four exemplars are building with students who are able to reach out to their mentors at any time. "The common expectation of family support is not available to everyone," Corey added. "Our experiences growing up in the cities of Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Canton have given us an understanding of the challenges facing our students."
Men of Honor events take place without disturbing academics. Events are designed to provide social, leadership, self-image and academic support. Students recently visited Gibbs Elementary School to mentor and read to younger students. They have visited Ohio State University, and in April they will attend the Black Student Summit at the University of Akron.
It is the goal of Men of Honor to be sure that students "enter the room" with the social skills to succeed in addressing political issues and stereotypes, interacting with females and with authorities. "It's amazing to see the light bulb go on," Isaiah said, "and to see the students spread their wings." At a November event the students broke bread with members of the police department. "Our kids took leadership roles in planning the event and included 8th grade students in the experience."
Funding for Men of Honor is part of the Canton City School District budget although often the leaders provide the extras that make a difference - a tie and shirt to wear to a special dinner or black socks for a practice interview.