Speakers talked and singers sang, but in the end, children's words summed up a Saturday breakfast aimed at teaching black youngsters that role models don't have to dribble basketballs or sing Rap music.
Asked to write about what makes a good man, fourth-graders from Tyler Heights Elementary School in Annapolis used stark language to express their feelings on everything from family violence to making money to holding down a job.
"To be a man is to grow and be loyal and be faithful," one student wrote. "It's good to get a job and keep a family happy. Don't never put your wife or child out for nothing they didn't do."
The boy concluded: "He never should be a fool and make a baby but can't take care of the kid. That's not a man."
"A good man is a man that cares for his family and doesn't do drugs," another student wrote. "In order to be a good man, you must walk away from drug fights."
Still another essay: "A good man doesn't slap his woman in the face and beat her in her face. When I am a man, I won't beat up any of my women. I am going to get a gun to help survive my whole life and get my children a gun to help them survive their lives. I am going to make lots of money."
Orlie Reid, moderator of the breakfast at First Baptist Church on Washington Street, said he is troubled by what he read.
"These are some of the things that they are seeing, and they are saying they don't want to grow up this way," said Reid, a therapist who has counseled a group of Annapolis High students recently suspended from school for fighting. "But we know if we don't do something, they will grow up just the way they don't want to be."
The breakfast, sponsored by 100 Black Men of Maryland, was meant to get boys and men -- related or not -- together. About 100 people showed up.
"I think it's nice," said Joe Allen, who brought two youngsters he knows, Mark Krian, 6, and Antoine Crawford, 8, to the breakfast. "It helps all the kids from broken homes."
Charles Bryant, who lives in Robinwood and works as resident relations aide for the Annapolis Housing Authority, brought his 6-year-old son, William, and the boy's best friend, 7-year-old Terrell Downs, who lives with his mother.
"I think that it's important that we show these kids somebody different as role models, like a neighbor they can see," Bryant said. "
The sponsors hoped everyone would go home with that message.
"Not everybody is going to be a Michael Jordan," said Zastrow Simms, a community relations specialist with the Housing Authority. "Some of these kids are going to be concert pianists or find a cure for AIDS."
"I am very pleased to see so many young men and adult black males here to try and get something started," Reid told the group. "Keep in mind that all our young black males are valuable resources."
Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5, called media stories saying black men are an endangered species a "despicable lie." The press anoints the wrong people, such as Michael Jordan, Mike Tyson and Michael Jackson, as role models, he said.
"They are confusing role models for superstars," he said. "The role models are in this room, right around us."
Some of the children who wrote essays seemed to understand that message.
"The reason I want to be a man is so I can get married," wrote Ernie Coleman. "A good man and to be respectful to my wife. I will have a sports car and live in a house like my uncle. I want to be like my father because he was a doctor."