'OK Program' seeks Black men to mentor Black boys for Oakland chapter

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Monday, August 21, 2023
'OK Program' seeks Black men to mentor Black boys in Oakland
The OK Program recruits and trains Black men of all ages and backgrounds to mentor Black boys from middle school-aged to high school.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Donald North Cross was a sergeant in the Sacramento County Sheriff's Office when he says he noticed there was big problem in the Black community.

"I got tired of seeing Black men going to jail, becoming victims of homicide. I looked around for a solution to the problem. I didn't see one," Cross said.

So, he started one.

He now runs the OK Program, which recruits and trains Black men of all ages and backgrounds to mentor Black boys. The program starts with boys in middle school and follows them through high school. Mentors work to teach critical thinking and leadership skills.

A training session was held in Oakland on Saturday for new mentors who will work in the Oakland chapter. After the training, they can become mentors if they pass a background check.

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"Grade point average doesn't tell us how smart they are. Grade point average tells us how disciplined they are," Cross told the group of trainees in attendance.

"Trying to have our boys develop academics and social behavior. We know if they do that, they are going to be successful in society. They are going to avoid negative pitfalls so many Black men find themselves in," Cross said.

"I still remember, Mr. McKenzie told me I'm going to be a leader someday. This is when I was in high school. And I'm 46 now. And that kind of stuff stays with you," says Seth Steward, who participated in the training.

Steward says he had teachers, boy scout leaders and a track coach who guided him as he was coming up. So, he knows the impact a mentor can have. He is now chief of staff to Oakland City Council Member Dan Kalb. Steward says he is impressed with the program's commitment to reducing violence.

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"This program really helps develop people into good men by really focusing on the men here, the mentors, who come in regularly, every Saturday to talk to boys to help them become better people," Steward said.

Robert Smith is an Oakland police officer who spent some time in foster care growing up. He has been with the program for eight years and now oversees the Oakland chapters.

"We have several young men who have elected to go to college. We have a lot of young men who elect to go to trades. We have a few young men who already have military service," Smith said.

The success of the programs has taken it nationally. But Cross says works still needs to be done.

"We are only 6% of the nation's population, but we account for more than 50% of the homicides each year. If we can't have something that is specifically focused on that, then we are in trouble. We are really in trouble," Cross said.

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