Some of James Bradley's classmates at Germantown High School told him not to get involved with Men's Day, an annual event held to encourage male students to achieve and remind them that they can.

"People said, 'Don't go to Men's Day, skip school the day of Men's Day,'" Bradley said partway through Monday's festivities.

The sophomore didn't heed the advice. Instead, he gladly took on the role of student coordinator.

Wanted: Positive male role models

Bradley said it's been tough since his father's illness landed him permanently in a nursing home. In his absence, it hasn't always been easy to stay focused and behave the way he knows he should.

"It changed my demeanor," he said. "I can see him, I can talk to him, but it's not going to be the same as him being in the house, me seeing another male in the house."

Knowing how important it was to have a positive male influence in his life, Bradley was eager to participate in the event, which was organized by the school and its alumni association.

Monday was as much about reminding himself of that fact as his desire to help teach others.

Paying it forward

It appears some of his classmates got the message during the third and final Men's Day at GHS, which will close at the end of this school year.

"Even though we're in the situation that we're in now, we can still rise and achieve anything that we want," said junior Jovan Portlock, who added that, "living in the hood, the odds are against us."

It's advice that fellow junior Barry Boyd has heard before, but that he thinks bears repeating nonetheless.

"The kids, some of them just don't care what they're doing, like joining gangs or selling drugs," said Boyd. "But being here and looking at all of them and listening to the stories, it doesn't make you want to do that anymore. It makes you want to do better and stay away from it."

Throughout the day, students in the ninth through 12th grades attended a series of workshops featuring speakers — pilots, engineers, clergy members and former drug addicts — who shared personal stories of success.

For Michael Hawkins, Germantown's head football coach and dean of students, if those men reached one student, the event was a success.

"Are you going to save every kid? No, you're not going to save every kid. I'm sorry." said Hawkins. "You're going to save the kid that's on the bubble, the kid that's undecided. Somebody in one of these workshops might say something that turns the light on for these kids. That's what education is all about."

From GHS grad to Germantown state rep.

During his keynote address inside the school's gymnasium, state Rep. Stephen Kinsey tried to get that switch to flip.

The Germantown grad didn't mince his words.

"You have to change the perception that black boys from Germantown won't grow up to be nothing," said Kinsey to about 250 students. "You have the power to change that perception simply by showing up to class every day."

Daunting odds

Vernon Moore, a member of the Germantown Clergy Initiative and facilitator of the day's drug-and-alcohol awareness workshop, said it's important for the school's males to be positively pushed by men in the community.

A number of them, he said, have grown up without a father or a positive male influence.

"You lose self-respect and an understanding of self-discipline," said Moore. "You lose that you lose respect for authority. They lose a lot of self-identity and they begin to look for self-identity in a lot of crazy places."

Of the 120 students he met with, he estimated that only about 20 of them had a positive male influence in their lives.

That statistic upset Moore. He's worried about those 100 students and the others like them.

"There's 80 percentile that the world is going to eat up and chew out and they don't even see it coming," he said. "The more they can [be exposed to successful men], the better off they are."