For 17 years, Cameron Miles has been leading the Mentoring Male Teens in the Hood program in Baltimore to target troubled males.
Miles, who grew up West Baltimore, started the program after he saw an alarming number of young African-American men headed in the wrong direction.
“The neighborhood is completely different today than it was then, but you still had your occasional stabbings,” said Miles of his old neighborhood.
Working at the city’s Department of Social Services, Miles saw men coming in daily.
“I began to notice there were young African-American men who were angry, disrespectful and who were just crying out for love,” he said. “I wanted to do something. I wanted to push men to do the right thing and to do better.”
Miles knew that boys who have alternatives have the best chance of resisting the temptations of the streets.
“Often, these young boys are immersing themselves in negative outlets, whether it’s drugs, gangs, alcohol or disrespecting women,” he said, adding that he wanted to “create an avenue where young men felt that someone believed in them.”
Mentoring Male Teens in the Hood was Miles’ strategy for success for young men. He started the program in 1996 with just five young boys and one goal; to save young lives. Today, it is credited for providing an positive alternative to negative behavior.
Miles recently hosted his fifth annual fundraiser at the New Shiloh Family Life Center in Baltimore. He said “a good chunk” of the money raised funds their summer enrichment trip. The group operates on donations and some grant funds.
“I want to take them away from Baltimore,” he said of the trip. “They need to know that there is more to life than what they see here.”
The keynote speaker for the event was Harvard Law School professor Charles Ogletree, who serves as a mentor in Boston and helped to start a charter school.
“Two years ago when I met Miles and his group, I was so impressed to see he put so much time into this mentoring program,” Ogletree told the AFRO.
He called it a “fascinating program” and said called Miles’ efforts “unparalleled.”
In his June 1 speech to the group, Ogletree told the young men that “the sky’s the limit” in what they can achieve. He said he fashioned the speech “to make them aware of the challenges they face… And to let them know they can overcome.”
Ogletree, who is married and has two grown children, didn’t have an easy start to his own life. He was raised by his mother and was the first in his family to graduate from high school. He said with support and guidance from his mother and family, he persevered and succeeded. A former public defender in Washington D.C., he spends considerable time working for causes that benefit young people, from raising funds for Stanford to serving as the chairman of the board of the trustees of the University of the District of Columbia and the B.E.L.L. Foundation, which sponsors after-school programs in D.C., New York and Boston. He established a scholarship program to assist needy students in pursuit of a higher education in his hometown of Merced, Calif.
Miles is married and he and his wife are expecting a baby.
He is taking his group to Delaware and Philadelphia later this month. He and the teens have been invited by President Obama to attend a luncheon on Aug. 24 and to tour the Industrial Bank in Washington, D.C.
Miles said he looks for people like Ogletree to help mentor the young men.
“It’s about putting people in front of young men who can be a positive influence,” he said.