About 200 professional Black men, many in business suits, showed up bright and early on Tuesday at Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in Hartford, Connecticut, to rally students on their first day back to school, reports The Hartford Courant.
Pastor A. J. Johnson, the minister at Urban Hope Refuge Pentecostal Church, is the lead organizer of the group Calling All Brothers. He told The Courant this is the group’s second consecutive year at King Elementary, located in a mostly poor African-American section of the city. One of the Brothers’ primary goals is to counter stereotypes.
“In the media, Black men are portrayed as thugs, killers and the victims of shootings by police,” he told the newspaper. “It’s important for the kids to see positive men of color.”
The men understand the uphill battle students at King Elementary will face, Fox News reported.
“I’m from the community, and I managed to escape it,” 36-year-old Damien Irving, an insurance underwriter, told The Associated Press. “It’s important for me to come back to show that these kids can do the same.”
Like many schools in neglected neighborhoods, King Elementary is in disrepair and faces the threat of closure. The Brothers are committed to keeping the doors open. They organized a rally in June and won a one-year postponement while the district searches for alternative solutions to closure.
Johnson told The AP part of the reason the men’s group showed up to greet the students was to uplift their spirits, because many of their former classmates moved on to charter or magnet schools.
“What we wanted to do was support the kids who did not get a chance to go to a so-called good school,” he explained to the news agency.
After King Elementary, the men’s group planned to repeat the first-day ceremony at other Hartford schools.