Rod Watson: Breaking the stereotype of young black men without even trying - The Buffalo News

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Rod Watson: Breaking the stereotype of young black men without even trying

The people who know him – and other young African-American men like him – know the stereotypes aren’t true.

Those who believe the stereotypes probably will never meet him.

But that disconnect doesn’t faze 15-year-old Jeffrey McMillan. In fact, it’s not even on his mind.

He just wants to help refugee kids adjust to life in Buffalo.

That’s what drove the aspiring Eagle Scout to start a clothing drive, a fundraising effort, and – Tuesday night – to gather his troop at the Vive shelter on Wyoming Avenue to teach board games to young refugees and asylum seekers.

His goal was not to redraw the public image of African-American teens, just to help some kids immersed in a brand new culture "work on their English and social skills and get ready for school." He had thought about doing a movie night, but opted for the board games instead to "increase the interaction between the refugees and the Scouts."

That’s all it was about – and it is more than enough.

The two-month clothing drive he organized is about halfway over and also is going "great," he said, with drop-off locations at his church and school as well as at Schools 82 and 91. He also is raising money for the parent-child education program at Jericho Road Community Health Center, which operates Vive. That program supplies parents with books and toys so they can read to their kids and work on their English skills.

Aspiring Eagle Scout Jeffrey McMillan teaches a board game to kids in the Vive shelter for refugees and asylum seekers. He organized the game night to help the newcomers get acclimated to their new home. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Organizing a project like this is a lot of hard work. Maybe that’s why only about 5 percent of Scouts ever attain Eagle status.

And if that challenge doesn’t keep him busy enough, Jeffrey plays several instruments and is a member of the wind ensemble, jazz ensemble, marching band and pep band at Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts. He also is a choir member at Humboldt Parkway Baptist Church.

But it doesn’t feel like work to Jeffrey, whose father retired from CitiBank and whose mother teaches at School 82.

"It feels great," he said, breaking into a huge smile in his Highgate Avenue home. "Knowing you’re helping people out, you sleep great at night."

Asked about those who only know about young black males from what they see in the media, and who never see teens like him, Jeffrey offers a pithy assessment: "You won’t know anything unless you want to find out."

Two nights later, on game night, he was moving from table to table, making sure all of the kids were involved and pleased at the way his troop members were interacting with the Vive kids, most of whom were on the young end of an age spectrum that ranged from 5 to 14.

"It’s exactly what I expected," he said, beaming, as his father recorded the room full of young people getting to know one another. "Everyone is playing and having fun."

Despite the small percentage of Scouts who attain Eagle status, Jeffrey will be the fourth from St. Martin de Porres Troop 139, on Buffalo’s East Side, to reach the highest rank, and there are four or five more in the pipeline, said troop master James Morrell.

They are the young men you rarely hear about.

Granted, not all black youths are this motivated and involved; but they’re not all thugs, either.

The next time you want to buy into the stereotype, take Jeffrey’s advice: Ask yourself what you don’t know about young men like him – and what you’re doing to find out.

 

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