A Crash Course in Manhood

Bob Yearick

, Uncategorized

The six-month-long Achievers Program annually steers a new group of young African-American men toward a path of excellence

On the last Sunday in June this year, 26 young African-American men, all dressed in tuxedos, walked into the Chase Center on Wilmington’s Riverfront to continue a tradition that began 28 years ago. That tradition—“the Affair of Honor”—celebrates the culmination of the Achievers Program, a six-month learning experiences that, as one of the participants put it, “prepared me for and taught me the importance of manhood.”

The Wilmington Achievers Program was created in 1987 through the combined efforts of the Wilmington Chapter of The Links, an organization of high-achieving African-American women, and the Wilmington Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, a historically black fraternity. According to Claire LaMar Carey, co-chair of the program, Achievers was designed to develop and encourage “excellence in young African-American men, while assisting in creating positive images of these males in the community.”

Each year, a new group of candidates is chosen. Ranging in age from 16 to 19, they are recommended by their schools, churches, community organizations, family and friends. They undergo a January-to-June regimen of training and mentoring by African-American entrepreneurs, executives, educators and professionals. Workshops and activities focus on goal setting, leadership, community involvement, family values, sexual responsibility, financial responsibility, career planning, and business and social etiquette.

The Affair of Honor is a formal dinner-dance attended by the Achievers' family, friends and dates, or attendants. (Photo by Theresa Knox Photography)

The Affair of Honor is a formal dinner-dance attended by the Achievers’ family, friends and
dates, or attendants. (Photo by Theresa Knox Photography)

Over the years, the program has awarded hundreds of scholarships, usually in the amount of $1,000 or $500 each. The scholarships and other awards are presented at the Affair of Honor, a formal dinner-dance attended by family, friends and the participants’ dates.

Among this year’s winners were Herbert “Tre” Broadwater III and JoJuan Pierce. Broadwater won The Links Profile in Excellence Award for academic achievement and overall participation and contributions to the Achievers Program, while Pierce received the LaMar-Carey Family Educational Award for academic excellence and interest in pursuing a career in education.

Broadwater, who was elected president of the 2015 Achievers, graduated this year from Appoqunimink High School in Middletown, and plans to study mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland. He says members of the class bonded during their time together. “It became almost like a brotherhood, and we learned a lot about networking.”

Pierce, a rising senior at Brandywine High School, has high praise for Achievers. “It helped me become a more responsible person, and I met a couple of people who will help me out in my career,” he says. He hopes to study computer engineering in college, with the University of Virginia, Hampton University and UD on his short list of schools.

His mother, Tu’Juana “T.J.” Pierce, along with his father and younger brother, attended the Affair of Honor.

Photo Theresa Knox Photography Awards and scholarships are arranged and ready for presenting at the Affair of Honor. (Photo by Theresa Knox Photography)

Photo Theresa Knox Photography
Awards and scholarships are arranged and ready for
presenting at the Affair of Honor. (Photo by Theresa Knox Photography)

“The grand cotillion to formally present each young man was the perfect ending to a successful session,” says Mrs. Pierce. “I feel that the Achievers Program gave JoJuan the opportunity to connect with like-minded young men who want to rise above how society sometimes defines many of them. They were mentored by men and women who showed them that success is obtainable through hard work and dedication. The relationships he developed through this program are ones that I feel he will continue to have because of the bonds they created.”

The mentors seem to derive almost as much from the program as the participants. Wali Rushdan, a Wilmington attorney, has worked with Achievers since 2008 and is now co-chair of both the program and the board of directors. “There are few things I hold more dear than the meaningful mentor-mentee relationships I’m able to develop with each class of Achievers,” he says. “My passion for the program grows with each year, and I’m committed to ensuring the program continues to evolve. It reinforces, in an exceptional way, that the focus and attention to achievement that these young men have dedicated themselves to thus far in life is honorable and worthy of praise. Most importantly, however, the Achievers develop a lifelong bond, rich in support and accountability, with other young men similarly focused on success and achievement.”

The Achievers Program can be a turning point for many participants. Bob Young, a DuPont retiree and member of Kappa Alpha Psi, tells the story of a recipient of the William S. Young, Jr. Articulation Award. Young established the $1,000 award to honor his father, a career educator and promoter of oratorical excellence who died in 2005.

“One entrant was an English student of my wife’s at Christiana High School,” Young says.
“He was a brilliant writer, but a very shy speaker. He didn’t win, but we provided positive feedback, and my wife reinforced it when he returned to class. The following year, we took the young man to our national fraternity convention, and he won the Student Pageant, which included the oral presentation of a selection of his original poems. His performance on that day was light years ahead of what we saw in the Achievers contest. We like to think that the coaching he got from the program produced those results.”

Meanwhile, the next generation of Achievers await their turn. T. J. Pierce says her 12-year-old son, who attended the Affair of Honor, was mightily impressed. “As he watched the ceremony,” she says, “he asked if he could be an Achiever when he gets older.”

So, what do you think? Please comment below.