The Shelby County (TN) Chapter, The Links Incorporated, a service-oriented group of women representing varied backgrounds and professional expertise, presented its 2014 Orita Rites of Passage at First Baptist Church Broad on Sunday, April 6th.
The Orita is a ritual that originated in African culture and signalled the crossroads, maturity, loyalty and readiness of a young man ready to assume the responsibilities of manhood.
This year's theme – "Connecting the Dots...and Bridging the Gaps from High School to Success" – benefited The Leadership Academy, a long-term, 22-year program focused on empowering, elevating and enlightening African-American males from all socioeconomic backgrounds.
The ceremony, officiated by the Rev. Keith Norman, the church's senior pastor, was the culminating activity for the participants of the Leadership Academy. He challenged the Fellows to make their ancestors proud by succeeding against any odds in today's challenging society.
The senior Fellows this year were: Dean Beckford, Dexter Bounds, Tommy Davis, George Dowery, Remington Harris, Randi Griffin, Jordan Littlejohn, Malik Luckett, Justin Mack, and Austin Merriweather.
Father Dr. Neal Beckford, one of several representatives throughout the program who challenged the young men, gave the father's challenge to the Fellows. He encouraged them to "dream dreams that bring joy, happiness, success and personal satisfaction – dreams that make us proud beyond our wildest expectations."
Fellow Jordan Littlejohn reminded his fellow brothers of the challenges they will face after graduation and related the knowledge they have gained in the academy as a source of strength when dealing with those challenges.
The community challenge came from Atty. Ricky Wilkins, who challenged the Fellows to have an attitude of excellence.
The Leadership Academy's mission is to equip the participants with a broader perspective and understanding of those non-academic influences that contribute to their total self-development and success.
The new thrust has a design aimed at the more relevant needs of young African-American men. Link Lillian Brown had the original vision for the Leadership Academy program and Link Lois Gilder chaired the first ceremony.
The seven-month program is comprised of five components: life skills workshops, community service, mentoring, cultural enrichment activities, and a rite of passage ceremony. The life skills workshops, facilitated by a faculty of dedicated African-American male professionals in the community, are held once a month for three hours.
The Fellows enjoyed many enrichment activities throughout the program including the Father/Son Brunch (hosted by The LeMoyne-Owen College), a Mother's Mixer, and a night at the FedExForum for a Memphis Tigers game (hosted by the Hyde Family Foundations).
The Fellows also participated in two community service projects this year. They provided can goods to stock the Mid-South Food Bank, and they worked together to sanitize toys used by patients at the Ronald McDonald House, which also served as the location of their monthly life skills workshops.
The senior Fellows also participated in the annual civil rights tour, which exposed them to historic places focusing on the roots of African Americans, the civil rights movement, and today's on-going movement.
This year's tour took the young men to Birmingham, Montgomery, Tuskegee, and Atlanta. They were given the opportunity to examine their world through another lens, detailing the struggle of the thousands of African Americans who lived and died for equality and all of the rights they currently enjoy.
The tour provided opportunities for the young men to reflect on the ongoing fight today and showed how African Americans – most importantly young African-American males – are in danger each and every day because of the color of their skin.
The parents of the Fellows were recognized along with the Leadership Academy Chairs, Ritche Bowden and Lauryce Graves-McIver; Orita Chair Zynthia Howse; Chapter President Ruby Bright; Vice President Dara Davis; and the membership of the Shelby County (TN) Chapter of The Links, Inc.