Project Empowerment allows teen boys to open up, speak their minds in a safe space

BALTIMORE - Anyone with a teenage son knows getting them to open up is as easy as opening a clam.  It can be hard for them to express their thoughts and feelings, and that's where Project Empowerment comes in.

The program, started by the AKOBEN Foundation, is a mentorship program for middle and high school boys.  They meet each week at Green Street Academy in Baltimore, and the sky's the limit on what can be discussed -- from girls, to grades, to sports, the group doesn't hold back when the conversation gets going.

"It's about people around my age that I can talk to, that understand me and may be in the same predicament as me," said Jerome Crowder, a ninth grader who is starting his second year with the program.

"The idea behind Project Empowerment is to give the boys a safe place to talk, where they don't feel judged and can speak their minds freely," said Ryan Turner, the executive director of the AKOBEN Foundation.  "They learn to trust others and communicate with others and have positive relationships with others because it all started in this small community."

During one meeting, the boys expressed their frustrations about being told that they can't achieve their dreams or they won't amount to anything.  It's a frustration Crowder can relate to, but he says he finds strength in Project Empowerment to overcome those hurdles.

"I feel like there's somebody out there that's going to down you and somebody that's out there that's willing to help you get where you need to go or need to be," Crowder said.  "When I make a mistake, they help me learn from it and keep me moving."

It's the stigma of being a kid from the city that Turner is trying to erase.  He knows these boys have steeper mountains to climb than other kids their age, but he has all the faith they will achieve their goals. 

"I think providing an atmosphere for empowerment will help to break those things and break those ideas to help catapult them into their future," Turner said.

To learn more about the AKOBEN Foundation and Project Empowerment, click here.

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