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From At-Risk Youth to Gentlemen: Reclaiming the Youth of the Mississippi Delta

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
March 24, 2023 3:02 am

From At-Risk Youth to Gentlemen: Reclaiming the Youth of the Mississippi Delta

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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March 24, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Marks Youth Outreach is a nonprofit organization that all started through the work of a few men in Quitman County. These men saw a need for reaching out to and mentoring the at-risk youth of their community, and decided to do something about it. Joining us is one of those men, named Edgar Sculark, with the story of how it got started.

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For fees covered, rate, like, date, requirements, and other terms and conditions, visit or call 1-833-ROCKET. And we're back with Our American Stories. Up next, we'll bring you the story of Mark's Youth Outreach, a nonprofit organization that started through the work of a few men in Quitman County, which is in the Mississippi Delta, not far from where we broadcast, in Oxford, Mississippi, home to Ole Miss, Faulkner, Grisham, and so many other artists and musicians just miles away, Presley and Morgan Freeman and B.B.

King. And we broadcast here because it's one of the most beautiful towns in this country. These men saw a need for mentoring at-risk youth in their community and decided to do something about it.

Now you'll hear from one of those men, Edgar Sklark, with a story of how it all got started. I was born and raised at the Mississippi Department of Corrections in Parchman, Mississippi. My father was the first African American male ever to be employed there. I was the first African American child born to an African American couple at the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Lived there for 30 years. I was employed there for 10 years.

I was also employed in the Mississippi Army National Guard and pastoring for 26 years now. And I am an advocate for youth. My childhood is a scary childhood. I was bullied in school. I was bullied at home. My father was a functioning alcoholic. I can remember times where I have seen my father physically abuse my mother. He used to verbally abuse us and things of that nature to the point and place where it caused me to become insecure in who I was. When I was younger, my father and I, we were worst enemies.

I would see my mother treated the way she was treated by someone who I should love and adore that I began to hate. When I was eight years old, I was going deaf and did not know it. My father and mother began to really scream at me because they thought that I was being just disrespectful and disobedient. As long as they were in front of me and I can see them face to face, I could hear what they were saying because I was reading their lips.

But I didn't know this. I was literally reading lips to function. If they were behind me giving me instructions, I was not hearing them well. And there were times that I got spanked because they thought that I was being disrespectful. One Friday night we were at church and my father screamed at me and some way or another the sound escaped over into my ear, the inner ear, and I started shaking. They knew something was wrong then. They took me to the doctor's office that next week. If they would have kept me out of the doctor's office too much longer, I would have gone permanently deaf. I also had a very bad speech impediment. I stuttered real bad.

Anything that was more than one syllable might well pack a lunch because I'm going to sit there and uh, uh, uh, uh. So we did not wear the finer attire. Matter of fact, I used to put cardboard in the bottom of my shoes to keep from wearing holes in my socks. That's the type of life that I live.

So in the classroom, I want it to be unseen. So all of these things kind of carved a insecure individual. So from understanding of just who I was as a kid from about the fourth grade to the 11th grade, those were horror years for me.

I really did not like being in public places and God forbid public speaking. So oftentimes our young people are experiencing traumatic experiences at home. So by the time they get to school, they've gone into unpack mode.

So they've packed so many emotional entanglements at home. And then by the time they get to school, they're trying to reason with what happened. A lot of children are being called bad, but a lot of children are not bad. Our children have had bad things happen to them. And if you put something in a bottle, and if you put that cap on that bottle, sooner or later that top is going to come off. And that's what's happening with so many of our young people. They are literally exploding emotionally. They are just trying to reason with the bad things that have happened to them.

And I just believe that if we can just get our hands on those young, impressionable minds, then we can cauterize that bleed of destructive thoughts, the unhealthy emotions, the lack of training, of self-discipline. When that burden fell in my heart in a way that I said, okay, I have to do more than what I'm doing, I walked away from corporate America and went to the school and offered my services. Quimley County, geographically seated, is the lowest seated county in Mississippi.

It used to be the poorest county in Mississippi. The first four months was pro bono. When I say pro bono, I literally was in the schools six, seven hours a day.

And on a day-to-day basis, I may sew into 15, 20 kids, $5 here, $20 here. Reckless faith is when you know greater is ahead of you, but you've got to pass through the graveyard in front of you. And I'm happy to report if you can keep moving through the graveyard, you'll sooner or later make it to your greater. There was a person that invested into me that I'm forever indebted to the personal sacrifice that they made into me being able to get that brand of great expectations off the ground, running into the school system. Mr. J.B. Denton, that's where Mark's Youth Outreach came from. So J.B. Denton, one day he was at Bumpers in Marks, Mississippi. And Coach Lynn Riley, he's a living legend, had some young men out and they were washing cars. And J.B. offered them to wash his vehicle in true fashion.

His heart was spoken through his actions. Communications that he and I had and shared, intimate conversations about the community, about culture, about government, politics, all those things, the mentorship work of it was manifested through seed, through people willing to sew into the work itself. And long story made short, years later, that opportunity for them to wash cars has birthed a mentorship movement. Now we have The Hub, which is the center location in Marks, Mississippi, where we are trying to get an outreach aspect of people passing by.

So when people are coming in and out of the community, they can see The Hub in action. At that particular building, we have sports programs that are happening, we have reading programs that are happening. Also, we have a partnership with Village, which is a mentorship work out of Jackson, Mississippi, the Reclaim Project. They are working with the young babies who are pre-K up to about third and fourth grade. And then we are the pass off from them for the fifth up through the eighth grade and ninth grade to see if we can keep a consistent hand up on them. So Quitman County is a small knit community with the mentorship work of Marks Youth Outreach from its own set.

It was supported well because it was something new as far as people seeing it. And when I say supported, talk about people offered to children, but they didn't offer the support. Meaning to say, OK, here's my child, do something with it. So one kid may come from a two parent home, another kid may come from a foster home, another kid may come from a single parent home. So trying to weigh those different dynamics and to make sure that we are hitting the nail on the head with the right approach is not rocket science, but it is science. It takes it takes a scientific approach, just learning those different perimeters of how they're raised at home, because we have to be honest.

If I'm allowed to cuss my parents out at home from the mind of a child, even though someone tells me that's wrong, but if my parents or if my home environment supports that, then in that child's mind, I can do what I want to do. And you've been listening to Edgar Scullark telling the story of his own childhood and how he was able to connect emotionally with traumatized youth in his area and how he gave up corporate work and corporate America to just, well, show up. When we come back, more of Edgar Scullark's story here on Our American Stories. Buying a home rocket mortgage will cover one percent of your rate for the first year at no cost to you, saving you hundreds, even thousands with Inflation Buster. For example, if you lock a seven percent rate today, you'll only pay six percent for a year.

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For real. And we return to our American stories and to Edgar Sklark sharing the story of Mark's Youth Outreach, the nonprofit organization that helps at risk youth not just stay out of trouble, but become successful. Let's return to Edgar to share with us some of the various programs that make up his nonprofit organization and some of the children involved. The biggest platform of the Mark's Youth Outreach is our sports program. That's what Coach Riley and through partnership with other young men who've come in through his program. Coach Lynn Riley is a lifetime community member from the Quitman County community. He was a stellar athlete and he's given his blood, sweat and tears as well as his health.

Some can say they gave some. Coach Riley has given his all. I mean, literally some of the health complications that he's dealing with now is because there were times he was sacrificing finances for medicine to buy Gatorade for the athletes. That was time that he was sacrificing what he had for himself to make sure that those young men had what they needed.

He is the poster boy of sacrifice. So Coach Riley is a conduit of mentorship rollover. I mean, there are young men who he coached when they were little who have now gone on and they've now become parents. So in their spare time, they come back and they help Coach Riley.

They give their time and effort and energy with the young men as well. So that's about 80 percent of the program itself. The other 20 percent is where we're trying to engage through just teaching the life skills. We're trying to bring in a conventional kitchen so we can teach culinary arts. We're trying to also build a service department where you're able to teach a technical skill of checking the battery, checking oil, changing a tire, just checking a belt, see the wear and tear on it. That's a skill set that if you teach them that, that's a moment of inspiration that becomes valuable because to fix something gives you power.

We put in a computer lab so we can teach coding. We have times where we sit down and just have heart to heart, talk it out, see what's going on. So what I've started doing whenever I'm dealing with young people, because if you have me seated here, most children, after 10 minutes, they've checked out. They're gone. They're done. So we walk it out, talk it out.

We literally just walk. If I'm doing a home visit, I never engage children with parents around or family around. And this is why, because whenever you're talking to the child and you're telling the child something that the parent told them, the parent turns into a cheerleader. See, I told them that. I told them that. I told them that.

See, that's what I'm saying. Well, now this child looks at you as an extension of the parent that they already don't like. So let's go to a mutual place, which is let's just walk it out and talk it out. And normally when I finish with a walk it out, talk it out session, I have a contract and say, OK, if you can commit to four weeks of not getting in trouble, I'll see if your parents will allow me to take you to a Memphis Grizzlies game.

I'll see if your parents will allow me to come pick you up from school early and take you go get pizza. So it incentivizes them to admit and then self-correct. So the Mark truth outreach is a multifaceted mentorship work where we don't just try to teach our young people how to catch a football. We teach them how to catch vision by getting them to become comfortable with who you are, accept who you are. So those are the life lessons that we try to teach the young men about character, about self-control and then self-ownership. We have a program where we're teaching young men to become gentlemen, the Gents program. And we're teaching, we teach everything from learning how to shake someone's hand, learning how to square your shoulders, stand with your feet shoulder width apart when you're talking with someone. We also have a program where we say if someone asks you a question and if you start your response off with, uh, hey, that's 10 pushups.

So we have things of that nature. The first young man that we had to become a part of the Gents program, Antonio, this young man was the biggest problem in school, in the community. So we were meeting as the pastors in the men's group and we were trying to just get the momentum off of the ground, discussing how we can engage our young men.

That's what happened this particular night. Coach Riley, they had finished up practice and he was going to get ready to take Antonio home, but he asked, could Antonio come? We were like, yeah, come on in, sit down. So while he was seated there, I don't know if JB or someone else asked him, hey, what do you think that the biggest problem is right now in the community?

We were just asking him from just being a kid, you know, what is, what do you think there's some issues with? And then Coach Riley made it known to us how he was a part of the problem within the schools. So we started talking to him and letting him know, all right, hold on, listen, you can't do this. We expect more out of you, you should expect more out of yourself. Then we started speaking and then I said, tell you what, if you can go two weeks, I'll get in trouble.

This was around playoffs season time, then we'll take it to a Memphis Grizzlies game. He literally sat there, looked at the contract and said, nah. We said, hold on, listen, the only thing you got to do is just make sure you manage yourself correctly. Don't get in trouble. Don't get into trouble. Don't be disrespectful to the teachers.

All you have to do. No, no. He was just that honest. He said, no, I can't do this. You know, most youth would have been excited. Like, yeah, he was. No, that's okay.

I'm going to say this. I thought death would have gotten him before he made his change. This young man was a very disrespectful. He looked at everything in a negative way. He was very combative. Everybody in school was against him in his mindset. He was not trying in school. But then when we did the homework, come to find out his father was killed.

Just some more things that really shaped who he had become. But now that same young man is a star student. The same young man is a respectful young man. The same young man. You see him.

How you doing? At first, we could see him just doing that avoiding, just trying to hide. But now he lives.

He doesn't have to hide. He can just be who he is. Antonio was the first of the Gents program that we can say, again, with that consistency, if Coach Riley would have kicked him out of his program. And there were times that Coach Riley suspended him from the program a couple of times for a couple of days. But he never took his hands off of him.

He made sure that there was a consistent hand of love on him. And now Antonio is a stellar student, is an awesome young man now. And you're listening to Edgar Sklark tell the story of Mark's youth outreach. And within it, stories about some of the young men whose lives have been transformed by the program.

My goodness, that Gents program sounds like something every school in America should have. Teaching young men how to become gentlemen. How to just properly shake a hand, make eye contact. How to speak to women properly.

How to address adults. It's so fundamental and so needed. And boy, we learned about Antonio. We'd love to get his story one day. The biggest problem in the school, that it turns out he had traumas of his own. Real traumas of his own. The story of Mark's youth outreach from right near where we broadcast in Oxford, Mississippi.

Here in the Mississippi Delta. The story of Mark's youth outreach continues here on Our American Stories. More girls trips. More family gatherings.

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Chipotle. For real. And we're back with our American stories and with Edgar Skellarke. Let's continue with Edgar and more of his stories. Another young man, this young kid, was in the third grade. I taught him, and this is not about me, but I taught him how to shake a hand.

Just shake someone's hand and you would have thought someone had given him a million dollars. It was just the light that comes on. To me, the greatest reward in this mentorship work is seeing those lights come on. Those moments that those lights come on. My prayer is, even in the school system, all of us can attest in this room that our most impressionable moments is when a teacher is able to come off script and be able to have that one-on-one. And see a student struggling with a formula, or a word, or a meaning, a definition. And to leave the other 18, 19, just for about two or three minutes, and give that personal time and attention to that one student.

That light moment kicks off, oh wow, now school becomes exciting. That's a young man that he had been molested. And noticed that whenever he would come, he was always standoffish from group activities. Whenever a lot of young men would gather, you see him just, just push on in your way. Went and I had to go pick him up one day, and his grandparents, it's a matter of fact adoptive grandparents, because his father's dead, his mother is in prison. And when I did the home visit, unscheduled, I would just stop by to pick them up. And when the grandparents came out, they remembered me from the church community. And that's when they shared with me what had happened to him. And I started just really just dropping small nuggets of encouragement.

Small nuggets of encouragement. A lot of people respond to touch from how they've been touched. If you touch someone in the public on their shoulder, but if they've been touched inappropriately in private, they respond the same way. And I've noticed that even now that I can walk up to, hey, bud, how you doing?

I don't feel the tensing up. I'm not saying that he's through with that situation, because whenever you have a childhood experience where we know it's known as trauma, those are situations that you can't wait out. Those situations where you have to cancel out, cancel out, communicate out. So this young man, like I said again, I've seen him slowly come out of that shell. And now I see him communicating with young men in the schools. There are some young men that literally just hate us.

They hate us because we have an expectation and we're not going to cower down from what our expectations are. So where they are tyrants at home, you're going to be a kid right here. There's another young man who was having problems in school. And just every time I would go by the classrooms and because I frequent the schools a lot.

And sometimes I'll just go in and just sit in the back of the classroom. And this young man, I noticed that he'll always be laying down. I'm like, OK, so why are you laying down? I'm sleeping. Why are you sleeping? I'm tired. Why are you tired? Because I had to keep my little brother last night.

So we have a system we call the five whys, where you ask why five times and normally by the third or the fourth why, you've already found out what the problem was. So I communicated with the teacher. And it was a matter of fact, this was his always his second period. By the third period, he was a spunky kid.

But at first and second, he was always drugging. So I encouraged him, listen, when you feel yourself getting sleepy, raise your hand. I teach, can you stand up? So it's just like I said, those type of students, those type of interactions. And what one thing that we do whenever we go into a classroom, we never leave with the respect and authority. We always push that back to the teacher. We always tell the students, we always encourage them, hey, who is the greatest teacher in the whole wide world? Mr. So-and-so, Mrs. So-and-so, this is who you're going to get your marching orders from.

This is who you're going to become successful from following. So that's how we try to make sure that we merge that mutual respect from a supporting level as a student to a superior level as a teacher. Let me relate this from a place of just youthful emotion.

What's your favorite cartoon from remembrance or what's your favorite show from when you were a kid? And after the credits go off and you are now probably an hour after watching the show, you still have some of that fuzzy moment of just enjoying the show. That's how it is when you see a kid that you saw that was in a rough patch.

But now it seems to be walking in a smooth trail. That's how it is. It's that emotional excitement that you get to say, OK, man, it was a challenge, but it was a pleasure to be able to just work with that kid. There have been so many times where it seemed like the task was just daunting without delight. It was just like, and this isn't even worth it. I often call my manager, my GM.

Hey, I'm coming back. That was so many times that I want to pick the phone up and make those calls. There are times that we've met and it was literally just like heaven on earth. I mean, I seem like they would feel like they're listening, seem like they're getting it. And then one week later, seven days later, you're like, this is this a whole new group?

I mean, they're literally at each other's throats and you say, whoa, whoa, what's going on? I'm thankful for fellow partners that believe in the work with that consistency piece. So many of our young people, the reason why their challenges happen, because there's a lack of consistency. Someone tells them they love them, but then they don't hear it again until a special day, a sad day.

Maybe it's a horrific day. And if we can just show our young people love in a consistent fashion day to day, not just every other week or every other month or every other holiday or special day, but on a day to day basis, we can continue to not just tell them, but show them. We can't spend all the time celebrating the star stellar students. But then we starve the struggling student. If we starve that student of no attention, and that student now becomes a financial burden of great proportion on the taxpayer. If they start off going to getting in suspension and they find themselves going to alternative school.

Well, alternative school is the next step. Get ready to go now into juvenile detention center. Well, juvenile detention center introduces you to county jail. County jail introduces you to state prison.

State prison introduces you to federal prison, all these different jackets. And I'm not saying give anyone anything because I feel that the give me mindset is what destroys a foundation. Because if you give too much weight on a table, those legs are only built to sustain a certain amount of weight. I just believe that if we can just catch these young people, teach them those social and emotional skills, soft skills, then at least get them out of the financial burden of being taken care of. That kid that is struggling in school is not coherent of ABC XYZ one, two, three. But that individual may become the greatest floor sweeper or janitor in the world. But if they've only been told, if you don't go to college, you're done. And that means that now they look at everything that they do as a failure because they are comparing it against someone else's success.

Teach them how to be successful within themselves. They become self-functioning and they become a productive part of the community. And a terrific job on the storytelling production and editing by our own Madison Derricott and a special thanks to Edgar Sklark. And what a life he's leading, giving up corporate America to go into the most difficult of circumstances in these very difficult neighborhoods. That one young man that he described, the father dead, the mom in prison, living with adopted grandparents. And you just go, my dear, my heart just hurts hearing circumstance like that. And that men like this and women step into the breach. It's remarkable lives not celebrated enough. And that's what we do here on this show as often as possible.

We all know the problems, but who's stepping in to fulfill the destinies of these young men and women and help them lead better lives? The five whys. The idea of continuing to ask a kid why you actually care. That's why they finally wear down and will tell you why. Because you've asked them a third or fourth time. You're curious about them. You're encouraging them.

You're loving them. And that's what they need. That consistency and that love that all kids deserve. The story of Mark's youth outreach, the story of brotherly love, and so much more here on Our American Stories.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-24 04:34:13 / 2023-03-24 04:47:42 / 13

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