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  • Morning Bell: Life-Changing Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    The greatest tribute to the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., is not to name a street in his honor or celebrate a national holiday. It is to recognize and support those who are working to carry out his vision, those who empower those facing the greatest obstacles through personal relationships that restore the fabric of civil society—without the need for federal government intervention.

    As former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp once said, “We need an anti-poverty agenda based on democratic capitalism, not socialism and on private ownership, not government control. Our definition of compassion is not how many people live on the government welfare plantation, but how many of our people are liberated from government dependence.”

    Among those ranks of individuals who are carrying out Dr. King’s vision are three young men—Curtis Monroe, Michael Toland, and Roger Marshall—who give their time, talents, and earnings from their day jobs serving as coaches and mentors of at-risk youths in the Benning Terrace public housing development in Washington, D.C.

    The investment by this trio of volunteers is, in fact, an act of longstanding gratitude and reciprocity. Two of them grew up in Benning Terrace, and their childhood and adolescence was spent in a war-torn environment in which a familiar face would vanish from the neighborhood nearly every other month as the victim of gang violence.

    Fifteen years ago, the lives of Monroe and Toland were salvaged and their futures reclaimed when a cadre of friends who called themselves the Alliance of Concerned Men felt called to intervene after the violence reached a shocking climax: The body of a 12-year-old boy who had been shot execution-style was discovered in a frozen ravine.

    The members of the Alliance had at one time been involved with crime, drugs, and violence, but each life had been transformed. Because they were familiar with the day-to-day dangers of life in the inner city and were well-versed in the gang subculture, they readily won the youths’ attention and respect. Through meetings at the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, they developed a plan of action. They shared information with grassroots counterparts who had successfully worked with gang members in other parts of the country. They also connected with David Gilmore, the D.C. housing director at the time, who saw the potential of the intervention and offered to provide jobs for youths who would lay down their weapons.

    Warring gang members seized the opportunity to exit the cycle of violence and willingly took on jobs ranging from graffiti removal to landscaping and building repairs. The neighborhood was transformed from a wasteland into a thriving community. There was not a single gang-related death for the next 10 years.

    Today, Monroe, Toland, and Marshall, who experienced that transformation firsthand, are investing in a third generation of Benning Terrace kids. Their coaching goes far beyond how to pass a football or block a defender, as they serve as moral mentors and confidantes. Their investment is critical for the futures of each of the youths they work with.

    These volunteers also hold weekly group counseling sessions. At a recent gathering, seven of eight participants reported that their fathers were in jail. Statistics show that adolescents who do not live in intact families are more likely to engage in crime and delinquent activity and risky behavior and are less likely to succeed in school. But Monroe, Toland, and Marshall have refused to relegate the young people of Benning Terrace to the ranks of a “lost generation.” They are available on a 24/7 basis for kids who are in need, and they serve as surrogate big brothers and dads, taking them out for pizza after their football games and going to their schools to consult with their teachers.

    These men are rebuilding civil society, demonstrating the concern and care for individuals at a personal level that is most effective in transforming behavior and meeting people’s needs.

    They exhibit the power of presence—a sharp contrast to the impersonal efforts of government programs or over-reliance on curfews and cameras. Part of a nationwide network, these dedicated community leaders are proving that it is possible to counter the odds of poverty and disadvantage. Instead of surrendering young people to another cycle of generational poverty and accompanying government dependency, these community healers are demonstrating a realistic neighborhood-based alternative to government intervention. Policymakers should take note of the innovation and success of grassroots efforts like Benning Terrace in addressing the social breakdown that so often causes poverty, crime, and community devastation.

    Their investment is truly a powerful, living, and longlasting tribute to the vision and sacrifice of Dr. King.

    Robert L. Woodson, Sr., is the founder and president of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise located in Washington, D.C. The Heritage Foundation works closely with Mr. Woodson and the center on conservative anti-poverty strategy.

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    24 Responses to Morning Bell: Life-Changing Tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    1. inverbrass says:

      A refreshing article. These men could have chosen to be victims, but they did not. Their actions should be admired. Government handouts is not the answer. Hard work, belief in ones own worth and pride in accomplishment are obvious values they have worked to instill in those young men and women who are fortunate to come into contact with these men. We need more like them, more like MLK and fewer Al Sharptons and Jessie Jacksons.

    2. mike says:

      great uplifting article, need more of these real life positive stories. keep up the great work. Mike

    3. Oscar Manful says:

      Dr Martin Luther King was a great man and his memory will live on forever ! Indeed he is an inspiration to many young people. However, the story of the three young men and their efforts to transform the inner cities of DC is just unbelievable. Great things can happen with democracy, capitalism and individual initiative combined. Congratulations to them…they provide a remarkable learning curve for all of us. In related news , out here in Africa we are getting ready for the African Nations cup football tournament to be held in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. My money is on Ghana to win…cheers !

    4. Tucson Dad says:

      This is a great report that needs wider distribution. It also needs wider replication. So much bad news comes from fatherless youth communities that bad reputations contribute to further declines in civil life in those communities. These great successes from great men sacrificing their time and treasure should be a bright flag of honor to be proudly waved in any community with misdirected or undirected youth. It is men with vision, not government funds that make a difference in the minds of the young inheritors of our future.

    5. Wayne Grievo says:


    6. Peter Boddie says:

      Thank you for reminding us of those who are truly honoring Dr. King's dream by rebuilding lives and communities one young person at a time. God bless them and their efforts.
      If only some of our leaders would choose that same vision and honor Dr. King by burying the race card, would could move on to the real work that needs to take place.
      As a Tea Party activist falsely accused by those leaders of being racist, my wife came up with an alternative to the race card, which I have posted on my Pundit Pete blog. You can see it here. http://punditpete.blogspot.com/
      God bless.

    7. Dr. Henry Sinopoli says:

      Forget it…whatever positive contributions King made during his lifetime have been usurped by guys like Jackson, Sharpton and a whole host of guys with a 'pseudo' reverend title. What King did was come along at the right time, in the right country, to become the consummate community agitator. He was successful because his message was ethically and morally correct. We owe him a debt or gratitude for making our country live up to the standards of the Founding Fathers.

    8. Dan Miller says:

      >>They exhibit the power of presence—a sharp contrast to the impersonal efforts of government programs or over-reliance on curfews and cameras. <<

      "The power of presence." That is a very perceptive insight into the qualities of any successful program — social program, parental program, financial program. I'm putting that phrase in my hard drive, and will shamelessly use it in my life. Thanks.

    9. Joseph McKennan says:

      This is a great article. Dr. Martin Luther King – in a famous speech – spoke about the content of a man's character. This is no more evident than in the action of reaching out to those underprivileged in personal interaction. An ongoing relationship in which one person is allowed to be part of another's life is meaningful and potentially more influential than a handout of thousands of dollars. That shows me more than preaching that GOD exists. Jesus Christ did not come to earth and start handing out money to the underprivileged he gave them something more important— a feeling of self worth and dignity.

    10. Wes Evans says:

      Jack Kemp's statement in this article should be part of the GOP platform and the rallying cry of every conservative and tea party member.

    11. Marie Padget says:

      The President and our senate need to read this. If I had any money at all, I would surely give it to these fine individuals. Mr. Soros, Mr. Buffet, and other gazillionairs should read this article and put their money to good use, not just the President's campaign chest!

    12. Juan Martinez says:

      Yeah, but you've got to admit, it's great that we have a national holiday dedicated to the memory and vision of one person who worked so hard for peace and social justice. He is one of the greatest americans who ever lived.

      • Bobbie says:

        Totally agree but bewildered by a President that would instruct everyday Americans who are of good will and everyday honor to fellow people, exploit this day to "service" each other while all his "services" that are "paid for" are closed "with pay." Not too genuine… pretty dictatorial, communist. This should be a day of celebration of each other and human endurance!

    13. Jan says:

      Dr. King would have honored these men! Bob Woodson intrigues me… why haven't we heard more about what this man,his program, and the others like him? Oh wait…because the media wants us to believe that we need more government to fix the problems. THANK YOU to Bob Woodson and all who work with you, and Mr Monroe, Toland and Marshall for your selfless sacrifices.
      A legacy to Dr. King for sure!

    14. Jerry from Jeff says:

      The greatest tribute would be to honor what he said, "not the color of their skin, but the content of their character". May I add to that – not their gender, not their age, not their religion, not their ethnic background, not their sexual orientation, not their political affiliation, not their, not their, not their, ad infinitum, THE CONTENT OF THEIR CHARACTER!!!!!!! A voting district banned party designation on a local election ballot,
      the fan was hit by every group who wants to control people. They screamed, "How will anyone know for whom to vote." Easy, with the right to vote, as with all rights, one has the responsibility to understand what they are doing, it's called citizenship. Otherwise, they will eventually be led like sheep to slaughter.

    15. sdfultz says:

      The results in this story are truly worth mention, but I beg to ask why is that the Black youth have to be the example, are there no white youth who suffer the same poverty, crime and disenfranchisement that also need mentors? Why can't they be the examples sometimes. I believe this just penetrates the stereotype of Black inner city youth.

    16. PADDY O says:

      These Kids Are the type Newt Gingrich was talking about a couple of weeks ago. The sponsers mentioned are former gang members. What is needed is support from the community at large, with time, talent, treasure and LOVE!

    17. StanfromPA says:

      These three men exemplify what MLK Jr stood for. Building character is where it's at, not government handouts. May our nation produce more men like Robert L. Woodson Sr.

    18. Ben C. says:

      I wonder what comments Dr. King would have today about Detroit Michigan. This is the poster city for the failure of "The War on Poverty." The illiteracy rate is near 50% as is the unemployment rate. Who needs to be able to read when one can live off the government? It will take generations to change their culture and if Dr. King were there today my guess is that he would likely kick them in the rear and preach self-responsibility.

    19. Robt. H. says:

      What wasn't said was the part about Dr. King's Communist leanings/affiliations, plagurism for his doctorate and philandering. Dig deeper to see the real man ain't exactly what he's cracked up to be. I believe we were sold a bill of goods on this one. However, these men mentioned in the article seem to be pursuing what real men do everywhere, everyday…mentoring young men to become MEN, regardless of color or creed.

    20. Jeanne Stotler says:

      Too bathat the words his children and neice say aren't heard, I was listening to Sean Hannity and his guest was Dr. King's neice told about how they were incouraged to earn their rewards, not wait to be given them. I've heard so many youngsters talking about how much they are owed??, Since when is anybody owed a living?/ I was taught from an early age that you worked for what you got, I fed chickens, cleaned the hen yard, pulled weeds, cleaned house, dusted, and ironed all before I was 14, then I went to work in a "Dime" store (Remember when things were a dime?) after school and summers. My kids were told if you want more than what Dad and I give you, "Get a Job" and they did.

    21. Blair Franconia, NH says:

      There's a difference between JFK, LBJ, Martin Luther King, and Barack Obama. JFK and Martin Luther King inspired people to be independent with their soaring rhetoric. Barack Obama's just the opposite.

    22. Mike . says:

      Democrats are doubling down on the race card for this presidential election. The liberal press just shows you what it wants. A democratic pundit recently said "Romney is the whitest white guy in history to run for president". They criticized the Rep. party for holding a debate on MLK day! PS — the Dem. black caucus did the exact same thing some 8 yrs ago… you decide.

    23. Gary L Wyatt says:

      Bob your writings are truly inspired by God! Thanks for leading by example and bringing us grass-roots leaders to our full potential and purpose.

      Akron, Ohio

    24. Pingback: Bodin

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