How do turn around a Black male’s life after years of many things going bad?
An Ohio-based nonprofit has the answers.
The Columbus Urban League has spent years helping Black men turn their lives around for the better—and the incredible success story of its one-thousandth graduating member now serves as an amazing testament to what similar nonprofits have the power to do everywhere in America.
It’s been more than a year since 34-year-old Wesley Sanders was released from prison for two felonious assault charges.
Many men who have served time behind bars struggle to become reintegrated into society; high recidivism rates have long plagued the Black community.
For Sanders, however, he refused to return to a life behind bars.
Instead, he found a new lease on life through the Columbus Urban League.
Through its African American Male Initiative, the nonprofit has helped over 1,000 Black men find the path to a better life.
It’s a path Sanders believes he would have never found without the organization’s help.
When he was 14, he started dealing drugs as a way to provide for his family.
His mother was struggling financially and his father had been killed when Sanders was just a baby.
“There were times I would be dealing (drugs) with tears in my eyes,” Sanders told the Columbus Dispatch.
A rough childhood full of unfortunate circumstances shoved Sanders into a life of crime.
As a young boy he was left praying every day that he wouldn’t have the same fate as his father.
“I always had this motto that I didn’t want to die like my father,” Sanders continued. “So I would carry a weapon, and that weapon came back to bite me.”
The very weapon that was meant to protect him landed him behind bars and threatened to ruin his chances of ever having the life he used to hope for.
Despite all the odds being stacked against him, Sanders is now a successful subcontractor at a local construction business and an ordained minister.
Even more than that, however, he is an active part of his 11-year-old daughter’s life.
A little more than a week ago Sanders spoke to the latest graduating class of the African American Male Initiative.
The crowd of about 300 graduates had their eyes fixed on a man who, based on the cards life dealt him, simply wasn’t supposed to become the successful man he is today.
“It was the best moment of my life,” Sanders said. “For the first time in a long time, I felt important.”
The African American Male Initiative, formed by Columbus Mayor Michael B. Coleman and state Rep. Kevin Boyce, was launched back in 2007.
It offers three programs that have different specialties but are all ultimately geared towards helping Black men find their way up from “the bottom of the ladder.”
“African American males are at the bottom of the ladder when compared to others,” Boyce told the Columbus Dispatch. “The mayor and I got together to form an agency to turn the epidemic around.”
The different programs include Choose 2 Change, dedicated to helping former offenders reintegrate successfully back into society; Father 2 Father, dedicated to helping Black men become better, active fathers and avoid using violence; and Urban Warriors, a peer-group that reaches out to young Black men in middle school and high school.
Sanders completed both the Father 2 Father and Choose 2 Change programs.
After managing to turn his own life around, Sanders explained that he is ready to give the same opportunity to other misguided young men.
“I would like to catch the juveniles before they get to be adults because if you catch them then, then maybe you won’t have to deal with the outcomes of (bad) situations,” he said.