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Participants in the Gentlemen’s Agreement mentoring program toured Atlanta recently with visits to historic places where Martin Luther King Jr. rose to prominence.
“They came away with a deeper appreciation not just of King but of the challenges that he faced and how he dealt with them,” said the Rev. Maurice Barnes, leader of the program.
Some 58 teenagers left Wilson on two charter buses at midnight and arrived in Atlanta at 6 a.m. to begin their tours of the Martin Luther King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, Ebenezer Baptist Church, World of Coca-Cola and the Metropolitan Atlantic Rapid Transit Authority subway.
“The guys had a great experience,” Barnes said.
What had been planned as a two-day trip was condensed into one day because funding ran short.
“They were in awe, to say the least. They were just impressed with Atlanta in and of itself — the skyline, coming into a big city.”
Barnes said one of the highlights was visiting the King Center.
“What they saw was what shaped his life and how he grew up and what was his motivation and what drove him to do the things that they did,” Barnes said. “They came away from that, and many of them said they did not know those things about Dr. King to that extent.”
According to Barnes, the students were familiar with King’s speeches, but not the intimate details of his life.
“He witnessed firsthand being treated like a second-class citizen,” Barnes said. “They saw it at a different vantage point, and that was pretty powerful. You could sense the emotion in the room.”
This is the largest group that has ever taken a trip with the Gentlemen’s Agreement program.
Each person was required to contribute toward the trip.
“With this particular trip, we wanted to teach them something about not just responsibility but what it means in life to contribute to your own success and your own future,” Barnes said. “We said to them, ‘You guys, you have got to have skin in the game.’”
Some of them had never heard of that phrase.
The $10,200 trip was financed by the grant from the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church and contributions from businesses and individuals.
Last year the program took teens to Washington, D.C., and the previous year to a performance of “The Lion King” in Durham. Barnes said the group is contemplating a trip to Philadelphia in 2019.
“The success of Gentlemen’s Agreement is the direct result from these young men seeing that there is a community that is committed to their success,” Barnes said. “That says to them that they have worth and the idea of the village concept and wrapping our arms around them so that they know that they are loved.”