What does it mean to be a man?
Is it having a lot of girlfriends and wearing flashy clothes? Or being smart in school and taking responsibility for your actions?
About 200 teens and parents heard evidence for the latter Saturday at the Man Up summit at West Charlotte High School.
The second annual event was presented by the nonprofit Communities In Schools dropout prevention group. While not officially tied to recent school-boosting efforts like Project LIFT, Man Up echoed some of the same themes.
"How many of you guys can see yourself at graduation?" Charlotte author Omar Tyree asked the crowd in West Charlotte's auditorium. "How many of you are going to college?"
Lots of young men in hoodies and fleece jackets raised their hands, as Tyree pushed them to "visualize your future" and "be one of the smart people."
Tyree wrote the New York Times best-selling novel "For the Love of Money" and has also written the children's book "Twelve Brown Boys."
"All rappers and athletes have lawyers, agents and managers," Tyree told the crowd, sprinkling his speech with hip-hop slang and gospel fervor. Those lawyers, agents and managers, he pointed out, are among the "smart people" students should emulate.
Tyree and other speakers encouraged teens to "man up," meaning take responsibility and not make excuses. They also urged students to set goals, respect their bodies, and seek positive role models in teachers, coaches, counselors or church members if fathers are absent.
"Young people of this generation believe if it's not thugs, it's not manhood," said the Rev. Trevor Beauford, youth minister of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.
"How you are as a man is determined by how you live your life and how you help others," he said, adding that manhood also involves humility and a cool head.
Eric Harvey, 38, of Mount Holly, and his 14-year-old son, Eric Jr., were encouraged by what they heard.
"They really spoke to me," the 14-year-old said. "Respect others and treat them the way you want to be treated."
His dad was impressed with the community of men who came out to support their sons in the often difficult journey to adulthood.
"It pays to be smart," Harvey said. That's the message he wants his son to take home.
West Charlotte senior Alex Mobley-Hollie, 17, said he learned the importance of "carrying yourself like you know people are watching you - like you know you are a role model."
He said no mater how tough it gets, "you need to focus on what you need to succeed. Stay on the right path. Stay focused."
By Kathy Haight, The Charlotte Observer
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