Boys II Men helps Aurora teens change minds, lives
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Sometimes they need a father figure.
Other times, it's a positive example, discipline, motivation, study skills.
Aurora boys find all these things in Boys II Men, a fraternal organization celebrating its 10th year. But they often join just because of their friends.
The Phenoms, as members of the brotherhood are known, are well-dressed and well-spoken. They are black, Hispanic, white. They value education and take pride in achieving good grades, staying out of trouble and beginning to give back to their community.
And they recruit.
From the founding of the brotherhood in 2002, Boys II Men members have brought their friends along on their quest to shatter stereotypes of what urban boys, teens and young men are meant to be.
Just like college fraternities, Boys II Men has a motto, principles, symbols, colors; an official book, poem, scripture verse, nickname and song. It has a creed and a tagline and it gives yearly awards to the best among its ranks.
But unlike stereotypical college fraternities, nothing about Boys II Men gets a bad rap. There's no hazing, no drinking, no rowdy parties.
The brotherhood brings in boys who may be from immigrant families, low-income families, Naperville-like neighborhoods, Aurora's far western reaches, or anywhere in between.
It turns them into achievers, leaders. It's almost as if they have no choice.
"When you're surrounded by excellence, all you can do is rise to the occasion," said 14-year-old Phenom Meliton Chaidez of Aurora.
Army National Guard veterans, local school board members, entrepreneurs, financial consultants, sociologists and college advisors count themselves among the ranks of more than 200 who have graduated from Boys II Men.
A full 100 percent of the brotherhood's members have graduated high school; 95 percent have gone on to a college or university and the remaining 5 percent have entered the military — numbers Boys II Men founder Clayton Muhammad reports with pride.
"In Boys II Men, we say that education is the greatest equalizer and discipline is the greatest gift you can give yourself," said Marmion High School student Michael Hughes, one of the group's current leaders.
Discipline and education are two of the fraternity's principles, along with culture, service and brotherhood.
"Brotherhood isn't something we talk about often; it's just something that grows naturally," Boys II Men President Raul Chaidez said.
In chapter meetings two Sundays of each month, the fraternity addresses topics that build those values, all with the motto, "Change your mind, change your life."
Meetings bring important topics such as study skills, manners and how to dress for certain occasions to the boys' levels through nods to pop culture.
A yearly pre-prom meeting advises the older Phenoms on how to "have a good time without risking anything, being smart about every decision and thinking about our futures while we do it," Chaidez said.
A November meeting called "How to Study on Beast Mode" encouraged boys to "beast those exams," using a phrase popular in football and sports circles to encourage switching into a higher gear for important tests like the ACT.
"You take young people at risk whose futures are limited and make them unlimited," Mayor Tom Weisner said to Muhammad and Boys II Men leaders as more than 800 people gathered for the organization's annual Phenomenal Man Awards.
The packed ceremony at Gaslite Manor banquets brought Boys II Men members from elementary students to high school seniors into the presence of some of the group's original leaders, now in their mid-20s.
From the veterans, politicians, consultants and sociologists who founded and grew through Boys II Men, Aurora youths heard words of wisdom and stories of struggles and successes. They also gained new role models.
Jared Marchiando, a financial consultant at The Claro Group in Chicago and a 2010 graduate of the University of Illinois, was one of 12 "Prototypes" who founded Boys II Men in 2002.
It was a violent year for Aurora, with 25 murders. And when police told community groups the killings were spearheaded by no more than 12 gang leaders, Muhammad decided to reverse the trend by uniting 12 Aurora teens as a force for good.
Marchiando was among the 12, partially because three or four years earlier, he needed a father figure.
As Marchiando tells it, he was the rebellious son of a single mother who fled an abusive relationship with his biological father, a man Marchiando says was nothing more than a "sperm donor." Marchiando was smart, but pulled by the forces of gangs and violence, so he often was in detention or suspended from school.
He met the man he calls his father in the form of his sixth-grade teacher, Muhammad.
Even before Boys II Men existed, Muhammad taught Marchiando discipline so the younger man could stay out of trouble, excel in his education, learn to value volunteering and eventually help build the brotherhood. Marchiando was valedictorian of his 2006 graduating class at East Aurora High School and went on to pursue a business degree on a full-ride scholarship.
"There's not a person in the world that you can't learn something from," Marchiando told his younger Boys II Men brothers as he accepted one of the organization's Phenomenal Man Awards.
As the organization reflects on its first 10 years, Marchiando encouraged members to grow, give back and use every day as a learning experience. He could have voiced the shared motto "Change your mind, change your life," and members would have responded with the Boys II Men creed, "We know."
But he chose his own words.
"Don't be afraid of what lies in the future," Marchiando said. "Just embrace and evolve."
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