In 2002, when Clayton Muhammad founded "Boys II Men," an organization to help at-risk youths, there were 25 homicides in Aurora, many of them gang related.
Ten years later, Aurora has not had a single murder so far this year and the fraternal organization Muhammed started has helped teens set goals, go to college, earn degrees and fulfill their dreams.
"Boys II Men: The Brotherhood for Phenomenal Young Men" is one reason there is less gang violence in the city, and Muhammad's service and dedication to the community was recognized Thursday as Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez awarded the 37-year-old Aurora man with the 2012 Roscoe Ebey Award.
Ebey, an 83-year-old World War II veteran, was killed in a May 2007 home invasion. The award is the sheriff's equivalent to Citizen of the Year honors.
"I'm so honored. I'll try as hard as I can to uphold his name," said Muhammad, noting the honor itself was not about him, but for students who went on to succeed. "It can be done, no matter what. This is for them."
Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner said it was natural to nominate Muhammad, who also serves as an educator, motivational speaker and East Aurora School District 131's director of community affairs and spokesman.
"Boys II Men," whose motto is "Change Your Mind, Change Your Life," also includes other branches for young ladies, young fathers, college students and younger boys.
"Clayton has a wonderful influence in our community and more importantly, a wonderful influence upon young men, many of them who are at-risk," Weisner said, noting the Aurora City Council also recognized "Boys II Men" this week for its 10-year anniversary. "The greatest thing is to see their self-confidence bloom when they succeed at one thing and hunger for more success."
Ebey's son, Richard, said his father was a man who was respected in his neighborhood because he would help others. "He was a community man. His whole neighborhood will vouch for that. ... It seems like you're that type of individual. All you do is give," Richard Ebey said to Muhammad.
Anita Lewis, secretary of the District 131 Board of Education, said Muhammad's service and positive influence goes way beyond him serving as the district's spokesman.
"It doesn't matter who you are, these kids have Clay Muhammad in their corner," Lewis said.
Perez, an Aurora native, said Muhammad was one reason all Aurorans could be proud. "There's a spirit from people in Aurora. We stick together," Perez said. "You leave it better than when you found it."
More information about "Boys II Men" can be found on its website boys2menonline.org or texting "B2M" to 22828.
Meetings that aim to help young men improve their lives and build a strong foundation are held at 6:02 p.m. on the first and third Sunday of each month at the Prisco Community Center, 150 W. Illinois Ave., Aurora.