LORAIN — As the small audience sat in pews within the Greater Victory Christian Ministries, a powerful message was delivered in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.
On Friday, an estimated 60 people gathered as “100 Men of Lorain County” presented “Time to Wake Up from the Dream!,” which focused on what King’s dream achieved and issues facing today’s youth.
“People all around the world are celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” said Frank Whitfield, vice president for 100 Men of Lorain County.
As part of the program, founder and president of U Can SOAR, Cedric Brown performed a skit showcasing the life of a criminal behind bars who blamed everyone but himself for his incarceration.
During the skit, when Brown was in character, he told the audience that he made his own choices but blamed the community and his peers rather than take the blame.
At one point, Brown said, “I know I have to change, but how do you do that?”
Stepping out of character, Brown shared with the audience that at one time he was living a life behind bars.
After being expelled from Cleveland Schools, Brown was placed in an alternative learning program where he stayed until he was sent to Job Corps instead of a juvenile detention center for a crime he committed as a youth. But once he left Job Corps, he returned to the streets. Three years after Brown left Job Corps, he was involved in a fistfight that led to the death of the person he was fighting.
Brown was sentenced to 15 years to life and was locked away in a maximum-security prison.
“I could have gotten the electric chair, but I got life with a chance of parole. I served nearly two decades in prison. I have been out for nearly five years. It is time to reach back into the community and truly time to wake up,” Brown declared.
Keynote speaker Luis Villarreal shared that his own father died when he was 9, leaving his mom to raise her family on her own.
And while Villarreal could have chosen a different path that may have included drugs and gang activity, he ultimately decided to devote his life to mentoring at-risk youth in Denver’s urban communities.
For 36 years, Villarreal has served impoverished individuals and their families to help them develop and learn the necessary tools for spiritual, emotional and educational health, growth and success.
“Many of today’s kids are disconnected. Kids today have parents who leave. The parents come and go, and that is a worse deal,” Villarreal said. “Motherless homes have a negative impact within the homes. If you show up in a kid’s life, you will make an impact. Young people long to have a caring person in their lives.”
Audience member Timothy P. Jones walked away from the program feeling rejuvenated.
“I thought it was a powerful skit. We have to let (today’s youth) know there is a better way than drugs and violence. It can take just a few minutes to get in trouble, but it can take a lifetime to get out of it,” Jones said.