Boys of Hope: Raising positive role models in Minnesota

Two people hold hands in front of a display
Boys of Hope is a mentoring program under the auspices of The Power of People Leadership Institute.
Regina Medina | MPR News

A mentoring program says it's teaching the next generation of Minnesota boys to become positive and productive men.

Verna Cornelia Price and her husband Shane Price established the Power of People Leadership Institute, which then created a mentoring program for girls as well as a program to help reduce recidivism rates.

Verna Cornelia Price said the formerly incarcerated men in the Re-Planting Program wanted the institute to create a new program to mentor boys. Price said they wanted their sons to have more opportunities than they did.

“[They said] you're working with the girls, but what about our sons? Will you go and get our sons because we don't want our sons to end up in the same place we are,” she said. “We need our sons to have some positive male role models.”

“And that was the beginning of Boys of Hope,” she said.

Program participant Andrew Emelife, 18, said he became interested in it when he learned what it was about: field trips, opportunities, new connections and the possibility of scholarships.

“I would say the biggest thing that I’ve learned is that no matter what the of situation you’re in, whatever it may be, you’re always gonna have someone that you can talk to,” said Emelife, who is a senior at Twin Cities Academy.

The program helps them gain the tools to become hopeful and productive men, Price said.

Each boy learns about leadership and problem-solving.

The initiative works out of eight schools in the area that have 14 different groups of boys. Price said 97 percent of the students are Black or brown. The organization held a luncheon Tuesday to celebrate its 200 participants.

Price said she relays her beliefs to the students with a mathematical approach.

“We can use our power to be an adder, a subtractor, a multiplier or a divider. We teach our boys that they are powerful, and they will be powerful actors in this world, and how to avoid being a powerful subtractor in this world,” she said.

She also said each lead mentor calls parents and each student weekly to find out how they’re doing.

A person poses for a portrait
Andrew Emelife, 18, participates in Boys of Hope. He’s a senior at Twins Cities Academy.
Regina Medina | MPR News

“A lot of these boys come from single family home,” said C.J. Smith, a lead mentor of seventh graders at the Excell Academy in Brooklyn Park.

“Some of them don't have moms, some don't have dads, some of them being raised by their grandparents, their aunts, uncles,” Smith said. “So, they come from very challenging backgrounds.”

The boys he mentors are “super smart,” he said. “They're very aware of ... how people are treating them, and how they feel about being young black men in society and how society looks at them.”