Male students from Preston Albury High School

“The right words, spoken at the right time, by the right person can change a young man’s life,” said Mr. Shawn Dove, CEO, Campaign for Black Male Achievement, New York, and one of the presenters at the South Eleuthera Community Conference, held March 29 – 31, 2017, on the campus of The Island School in South Eleuthera, under the theme, “Purposing Our Boys With A Brighter Future.”

Mr. Dove told the audience that South Eleuthera’s ‘struggle to assist boys on their path to manhood and civic engagement,’ was not just a local or national issue but rather a global one. Further, he said ‘no cavalry is coming to save you or your community,’ you must do the work yourself and emphasized the importance of collaboration to bring about community success.

The two-day conference was organized by Mr. Brad Zervas, founder of the Ascension Project, teacher, documentary film producer and youth advocate, at the request of Mr. Chris Maxey, CEO, The Island School, South Eleuthera. Mr. Zervas, has decades of experience working as the Education Director and then Executive Director of The Boys Club of New York, and Executive Director of the Boys Hope Girls Hope of New York. He drew on his many years of experience in improving the lives of boys being dismissed and marginalized in his selection of presenters for this meeting. They all had a wealth of knowledge and experience in this area and gave inspiring and uplifting presentations which captivated the audience, especially the boys and young men, who were the main target.

Group Photo of presenters and delegates, back row: David Banks, CEO & President, Eagle Academy, NY; Shawn Dove, CEO, The Campaign For Black Male Achievement, NY; Jarrett Brown, Director, Residential Life, Boys Hope Girls Hope, NY; Tavarrie Smith, Founder, Project Youth Justice, Bahamas; Brad Zervas, Founder, The Asencion Project & Conference Director; Aaron Barnett, Director of Mentoring, Eagle Academy Foundation; Jack Powers, Residential Counselor, Boys Hope Girls Hope, NY; Murray Fisher, Founder, Harbor School, NY. Front row: Treda Collier, Yale Divinity School; Ray Lewis, Executive Director, Eastside Young Leaders Academy, London, UK; Dr. Leticia Zervas-Gaytan, The Ascension project; Bill Strickland, CEO, Manchester Bidwell Corporation; Will Simmons, Teacher, Preston Albury High School; Stan Burnside Jr., Gap Year Director & Ed. Programme. Outreach Coordinator, Island School; Chris Maxey, CEO, Island School. Missing, Pastor Lincoln Young, Church of Christ, Bahamas.

While this conference was planned from the beginning of the year, it proved to be timely, as it occurred one week after the Prime Minister of The Bahamas, The Rt. Honourable Perry Christie, while giving a public address at the University of The Bahamas, on 22nd March, 2017, asked the audience to unite to save our young boys, following the brutal murder of two teenage boys, ages 13 and 15 two days earlier.

The presenters at this Summit were well selected and each presentation built on the previous one. Mr. Dave Banks, CEO & President, Eagle Foundation in New York, gave the example of how his brother, who was considered a ‘problem student’ rose to the position of a ‘Four Star Chief of Police,’ in New York. He emphasized that not everyone moves at the same pace and that at his Academy, the young men have mentors and the parents are involved in the lives of the boys. The core values at the Eagle Academy are: confidence, leadership, effort, academic excellence and resilience (CLEAR).

Pastor Lincoln Young, Church of Christ, Bahamas who lives in Rock Sound, gave one of the more moving and emotional presentations of the conference. Though confined to a wheelchair, he is actively involved in the lives of young people, as a church leader, baseball coach, co-leader of a junkanoo group, chairman of the Rock Sound Local Government and member of the South Eleuthera District Council. His presentation which was full of humour, at no time focused on his disability. He said that as adults, we tend to turn a blind eye to some of the ‘wrong things’ young men do as children and are later surprised when such behaviours become entrenched. He stressed the importance of seeing our young men as assets and not liabilities and to treat them accordingly.

Mr. William Strickland, President and CEO, Manchester Bidwell Corporation, who has been honoured with numerous awards showed through his power point presentation how the environment drives behaviour and in the many buildings that he built, he was able to change the expectations and behaviour of young people by changing their environment and “treating them like human beings.”

Mr. Alfred Sears, former, Minister of Education and Attorney General, gave a personal history on growing up in The Bahamas and some of the inhumane and unjust experiences he endured. He said that the most important commodity in The Bahamas is its people and that he was able to succeed because of the people who believed in him.

Mr. Ray Lewis, Executive Director, Eastside Young Leaders Academy, London, UK, told the audience that his many years of working with young men has taught him that everything begins in your mind and that once you can change the mindset of individuals, you can change their reality. Mr. Tavarrie Smith, Founder, Project Youth Justice, The Bahamas, spoke about the system that our men are growing up in here in The Bahamas and how this is shaping their behavior, more times in a non-positive manner.

The audience was treated to wonderful renditions of familiar Bahamian songs and other popular pieces by the school band of Preston Albury High School and on the second day an all-girls group, “Shades of Truth” performed with the organizer, Mr. Zervas.

Some of the attendees included Dr. Rodney Smith, President of the University of The Bahamas, Mr. Alfred Sears, former Attorney General and Minister of Education, Mrs. Lisa McCartney, Mr. Glenn Lightbourn, Family Island Administrator for South Eleuthera, Community stakeholders, Social workers, a representative from the Department of Local Government in Nassau, teachers and students from Preston Albury High School, Island School Executives and invited delegates.