Growing up in East Baltimore, Maurice Harried bore witness to the effect that poverty, drug abuse and broken families had on his life and on the lives of other youths in his neighborhood.
"My grandmas raised me," says the 17-year-old, a recent graduate of the Vivien T. Thomas Medical Academy high school. "There weren't many examples of strong men who were successful, smart and acted in love."
So Harried decided to become an agent for change. He assumed leadership roles at school and within the broader community, and he earned top grades.
Those efforts bore fruit when Harried was recently named a 2012 scholar by Black Professional Men Inc. during the organization's 19th annual Rays of Hope Awards and Scholarship Breakfast.
The event, held in June at the Sheraton Baltimore City Center hotel, drew several hundred people who dined, enjoyed live music and celebrated the achievements of black men. BPM has corporate sponsors who aid the organization's efforts to offer scholarships and stage the annual breakfast. This year, they include Northrop Grumman, Associated Black Charities, AAI Corp., Comcast and Verizon, among others.
Founded in 1991, the group has about three dozen active members; its mission revolves around "ensuring the future of the African-American male," according to Edwin Avent, who co-founded the nonprofit with friends Scott Phillips and Drew Hawkins.
"Over the last 20 years, we've mentored over 2,000 young men and given scholarships to nearly 200 of them," said Avent, chairman and CEO of the forthcoming Soul of the South cable TV network. "We have also advocated for better education, health care and employment opportunities for black men in the Baltimore region."
During the breakfast, the group awarded 10 scholarships of $1,350 each to college-bound students such as Harried, who will enter the University of Maryland, Baltimore County this fall to study bioethics.
Additionally, $4,000 college scholarships as well as laptops were given to 10 Polytechnic Institute students from the Real Life 101 Scholarship Fund, a national program that provides opportunities for at-risk black males.
"You hear a lot of negatives, but not nearly enough about those men who want to succeed and are doing so," said Rod Carter, BPM's vice president and scholarship coordinator. "We lend a helping hand so young men can reach their fullest potential."
Among the latest students to be honored, Yelants Calvin will major in economics at Columbia University, while Michael Green II plans to attend Morgan State University and study electrical engineering. Charles Robinson IV will focus on pre-med when he enters Frostburg State University, and Tyrone Page Jr. will hone his musical talents at the Peabody Conservatory.
BPM also honored seven community leaders — among them, University of Maryland law professor Larry Gibson — in such fields as business, education, media and religion.
Back in 2009, Darryl A. Stokes, vice president for engineering and standards at Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. was thrilled to receive his own "Ray of Hope" Award.
Today, he's impressed with the "exceptional mentorship program" that Black Professional Men Inc. has in place.
"It truly is a great gift they are providing to up-and-coming African-American males, especially those who have chosen to put their academic career at the forefront of their priorities," Stokes said.
"The organization and the volunteers involved provide positive black role models for our students in the community — at a time when it is critically important for our community to have strong leaders. "
Since its inception, Black Professional Men Inc. has handed out more than $177,000 in scholarships. The group notes that the college graduation rate of its recipients — about 84 percent since the late 1990s — exceeds the national average.
There's no shortage of success stories among its past scholars, including Jeremiah Cross, a Harvard graduate, who is currently a Teach for America science teacher in Baltimore'sy public schools; and Fagan Harris, a Stanford University graduate and 2011 Rhodes scholar.
Teddy Coates, the group's president, says the work it does is rewarding. And he urged other African-American men to consider joining its ranks.
"We're all volunteers, and we juggle this with our jobs and families," said Coates, a banker. "We always need good men who are committed to the cause."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times