By Charles Hallman
A father of two daughters, Terry Austin wants all Black men to be more involved with young Black males and females. He says he was inspired to do something several years ago while attending church.
Austin at the time was working for a pharmaceutical company: “I had this vision of health fairs in churches…passing out [health] literature to our people,” he recalls. “But what I quickly found out was that the need is with our youth.”
He later started his nonprofit Positive Image organization in 2004. It grew from a small group of men at a backyard barbeque four years ago to last weekend’s series of events, which included a golf outing and a public picnic for families at Zanewood Community Center Field last Saturday.
“Our mission is very simple — to foster empowerment with youth through leadership, health and education,” explains Austin.
Black males can show others, especially younger Blacks, how to be positive through their actions, the Positive Image president-CEO continues, pointing to President Barack Obama as an example. “The image that we see from the president — if he can do it with all the responsibilities he has — is ‘We can do it.’ That image of the president and his family speaks volumes.”
There’s too much negative recognition of Black men, “and those are the individuals that get attention,” Minnesota National Guard Lt. Col. points out. “We need some positive recognition in the community.”
Black males “are positive fathers in our neighborhoods, in our community, in our churches,” Austin said prior to last Friday’s fourth annual Leadership Through Service awards dinner at J.D. Hoyt’s restaurant that honored at least 30 Black men — most of them fathers.
“It is time for us to have something for fathers. It is an honor to be in your presence,” Austin told the assembled men. The private dinner was the opening event of “Father’s Day Weekend.”
“There are some good, positive role models and responsible men in our community that not only are taking care of their families, but also our community. The objective of the picnic is so that fathers, single fathers and families, single moms with kids, specifically boys, can bring their kids to the park, have some food and eat together, and play games together, and see positive males from all walks of life.”
The dinner honored several local individuals, including Christopher Mitchell, a recent graduate of Highland Park High School, who was awarded a $500 scholarship. Mitchell will attend Grand Valley State University this fall.
Williams, who served as master of ceremonies, said of Mitchell, “He’s very active in his church and at his school.” He is the first recipient of the Wilcox-Williams scholarship, named for Williams’ late brother and Carlos Wilcox, a Black Minnesotan serviceman who was killed in Iraq.
Desi Williamson, a motivational speaker, said he loved “seeing all these brothers in the room.” He introduced “components of leadership, what it is and what it is not,” and handed out “coaching cards” to the men as last Friday’s guest speaker. He stressed the notion of “not only leading by what we say but also by example, and how we can empower others.”
Black men “need encouragement,” says Williams, a father of two. “Sometimes we all feel that we are by ourselves. We all need encouragement.”
Austin expects the annual recognition of fathers to grow. “My vision is to have the dinner [next year] at a larger venue with a national speaker, with a roomful of Black men,” he says. “A roomful of Black men.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.