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Living, succeeding, beating the odds


Their lives are in the eye of the tornado.

Young. Black. Male. Between the ages of 18 and 24. For those wedged into this category, homicide is the leading cause of death. And the latest chilling report is that one in three young, black men is somehow involved in the criminal justice system.

"I not only know that statistic, I live that statistic. I live it in the sense that I know people who are involved in drugs, gangs or have been killed," says Keith Reed, an 18-year-old journalism major at Coppin State College.

"People talk about the 'Talented Tenth' -- those of us who have made it to college," Mr. Reed says. "But we have lived that experience that came before it."

Yet, the dismal statistics fail to tell the entire story. And a story told halfway is a story told wrong. There are young black men living their lives one day at a time who are neither running afoul of the law nor ending up in harm's way.

They are aware of the odds against them but cannot think of themselves as homicides waiting to happen. They are far too busy taking care of business in work and school. These are young, black men who have something to prove -- that they are part of the solution.

"We know we are an 'endangered species.' We are in danger from others and from those among ourselves," says Tre Childress, a 19-year-old sophomore majoring in biology at Coppin.

"But we don't let that [statistic] burden us from making the right choices in life," says Ian Smith, 19, a sophomore studying management science.

On Monday, these men will be in one of six buses leaving Coppin for the Million Man March in Washington.

The students are fired up about the march and about the plight of black men in America.

Despite the odds, they have managed to keep, or get, their lives on the right track. And for them, the march will reaffirm their commitment to stay the course.

Mr. Reed, a tall, lanky youth with braided hair, recalls the time two years ago when he faced a crossroads in his life. "I did fall into some things that were not right," he says. He took a hard look around him and was jolted by reality. "People started dying. Dropping like flies. I was seeing this at the age of 16," Mr. Reed says. He decided that was not the way he wanted his life to go.

Bruce Dunams, 20, determined early on that he would buck the prevailing images of black males. "I didn't like the stereotypes that were placed on me," says Mr. Dunams, who is majoring in psychology and political science.

At 27, Cory Perkins is the oldest of the small group of men who talked about their lives and the march. He recalled the horrors that he had to dodge to get where he is today.

"I grew up in central Harlem. I had to go through two or three different gang territories. But there were two factors that kept me out of trouble," he says.

"First of all, my mother would have killed me. She told me I was 'too big' for anything like that. Not that I am saying I am above my brothers and my sisters. But I am above the pitfalls I've seen most of my friends fall into."

None of these particular men could understand why some members of the black community are speaking out against the march.

"I can't understand how black people can not support it. This march is for people across the world. Not just blacks," said 20-year-old Tony Branche, a sophomore English major.

"It is for everyone who is struggling," Mr. Dunams said.

Despite Louis Farrakhan's involvement, it is not about "the Muslims," Mr. Smith said. "People think we are following the Muslims. But it is not about that. It's about bringing all of us together."

"The emphasis should be on the march itself," said Mr. Reed. "On unity. On getting different viewpoints together."

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