They gather each Saturday at the Edgewood Recreation Center: a band of impressionable schoolboys, their male mentors and the group’s brain trust, a middle-aged woman determined to change the world, or at least her corner of it.
“Our youth are kind of lost. They need direction,” said Sheila Tyson, 59. “When I go out shopping, I see young boys just walking around, not knowing what to do. Left alone, they get into a lot of bad stuff. We need to guide and inspire them to be our future leaders, and to teach them what they need to know to become men.”
To that end, in 2018, Tyson established Coming of Kings, a nonprofit that shepherds minors through adolescence. For two hours each week, as many as 15 youths, ages 10 to 19, gather to play chess, hold skull sessions on current events and anger management, and learn the social mores that will empower them down the road.
“They’re taught the do’s and don’ts of how to carry themselves in public, how to shake hands and how to dress without showing their underwear,” said Tyson. “They learn to respect women and not to curse too much.”
And they learn to play chess, a pensive game that Tyson says hones their focus and concentration — integral tools for life.
“We want them to know they can be great,” she said. “These are our little kings, our future leaders. We tell them, ‘Wherever you go, you’re in charge of you.’ ”
The program has helped Jalen Dhanoolal, 19, who, for four years, has driven from his home in White Marsh to attend. A recent graduate of Kenwood High, he is a professional go-kart driver who hopes to join the Formula 1 auto race tour.
“I’ve learned about everything from African American history and culture to how to handle job interviews and all of the necessary life processes that one goes through,” Dhanoolal said. “Nowadays, young kids want guidance but they’re not sure where to look. This is it.”
The program has offered guest speakers (politician, coach, music producer), tours of Morgan State University and visits to local fire stations, where kids don uniforms and ride the trucks.
Most participants are Harford County residents from single-parent homes whose families “want to keep their children on the right track,” said Mike Tyson, a mentor for Coming of Kings. A retired Army staff sergeant, he is Sheila Tyson’s ex-husband (they were married for 35 years) and a mainstay in the program. He teaches the kids everything from how to tie a tie, to how to cope with bullies, and that “it’s OK to be smart.”
“My goal is to light a candle under them, to get them excited about growing up,” Mike Tyson said. “They want to be part of something positive, if you just put something positive in front of them.”