“Color doesn’t define character, culture doesn’t define character, creed doesn’t define character, only conduct does.”

— Dr. Abhijit Naskar, neuroscientist, bestselling author, keynote speaker, consultant, peace

advocate

There was not a trace of “racism” to be found in the auditorium filled with men. The entire building was clear of it as a matter of fact. In its hallways and stairwells, its restrooms and meeting rooms, not a whiff could be found. It simply was not allowed to enter.

The building was filled with men in a proportion of about 50-50, Black and white, all moving and talking, laughing and crying together, sharing their defeats and victories, their sorrows and joys, their failures and successes as men of faith, together. Not as white men of faith or Black men of faith; just as men of faith. Trust and respect and common understanding was the order of the day. Color takes a backseat when Christian men meet to talk about rescuing kids from the mean homes and streets of our increasingly godless society.

Rochester Youth For Christ hosted a one-day kickoff conference in a series called “The Fatherhood Initiative” and it was not only a smashing success, it was a game- and life-changing experience for everyone involved ... to include those young people who will be positively impacted in the days to come. This was the kickoff returned for a touchdown by a receiving team of bold and daring pastors and ministers who serve mostly in Rochester’s urban communities.

No, I’m not biased because it was my brother, Michael, the executive director of the faith-based organization, who assembled this task force of street-savvy warriors and sponsors then worked and prayed the event into existence. He knows it was a God-given vision executed by God through himself, his sponsors, and all of these genuinely awesome, humble men. I can only share a few of the thousands of takeaway thoughts and only those of one speaker at a time. Wisdom was abundant as bees on honey last Saturday, so not easily captured and put into words.

“Don’t make promises. Promises can be broken, commitments can’t” was one thing Pastor Michael Peace, executive director/pastor of Bethel Express of AMERICA, emphasized. BE is a ministry for children ages 7 through 12 founded and operated by Pastor Mike and his wife, Julia. They’ve dedicated the last 30 years of their life to the children of Rochester. Every Saturday they pick up kids from all over the city and bring them to the Brighton Presbyterian Church for a free hot breakfast.

But the breakfast isn’t what keeps the kids coming back. Peace has known many of the kids since they were babies and most think of him as a father figure. Like many proud parents, he put up a Wall of Fame so everyone could see. “All of these kids graduated from high school and have gone on to college, some have gone on to graduate studies to get master’s degrees,” said Peace. Since 1999, they’ve had a 100 percent graduation rate of kids who’ve stayed with the ministry — over 300 graduates. “If you ask any of the kids, they would tell you their last name is B.E. (Bethel Express) because we are a family.” (rochestfirst.com)

Mike Peace and those he shared the stage with — Reggie Cox, Moses Robinson, Willie Lightfoot, Cuevas Walker, and Ken Sayers — filled the room with hope by describing the work being done in Rochester … stealthily, behind the scenes, like paratrooper commandos rescuing one kid at a time from behind enemy lines, defeating the Evil One one kid at a time.

As my brother, Mike, puts it: “Seventy-five percent of the children in our city live in homes headed by a single parent. More often than not, these are fatherless homes, with no man in the house to bring discipline, confidence, play, and masculine love. That has a devastating impact on our children.”

Well done, gentlemen. The world needs more radical adults to extricate our youth from the streets that take them hostage and hold their lives as ransom.

Dan Hennessy, of Geneva, writes a regular column for the Religion page called “A Well-Rooted Perspective.” He has studied the Bible under both Jewish and Christian teachers and received training as a Holocaust educator by staff from the Int’l School of Holocaust Studies in Jerusalem, Israel, the Anti-Defamation League and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. He is author of the book, “Remembrance & Repentance: The Call to Remember and Memorialize the Holocaust.” Email him at danielhen nessy111@gmail.com.

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