Former and current members, board members and mentors of the African American Achievers Youth Corps gathered at the Glen Theatre Aug. 24 to celebrate the non-profit organization’s 20th anniversary with co-founder and executive director Vernon G. Smith.
The highly charged and emotional event commemorated a local organization that spun from a national organization with a purpose to guide young black boys into lives of success and personal accomplishment.
AAAYC was established in 1993 after the discontinuation of the Gary chapter of 100 Black Men.
While live entertainment was provided throughout the program, including dance group Kruciial Kreationz, the Ultimate Michael Jackson, Ka De Pe, Princess Andrea, the Rev. Montia Gardner, Tamilla Calloway and former AAAYC members Cashflow Ellis and Darren Denham, emotional reflections of yesterday filled out the night’s agenda.
Former members Robert Jenkins, Kenneth Allen, Rev. Duwan Bynum of Christian Valley Church and Rev. Corey Jackson of New Shiloh Baptist Church drew laughs as they separately and jokingly accused one another of stealing parts of their memories speeches.
All four men credited AAAYC and Smith, a member of the Indiana House of Representatives, for giving them first-time experiences of going to a professional NBA game, attending and participating in workshops and conferences in Indianapolis, including the Indiana Black Caucus, performing volunteer work and more.
“My father is my mentor…but he introduced me to Vernon and (co-founder) Dwight (Pointer) as a child and those men also mentored and exposed me to a world outside of Gary,” said Jackson. “It was enlightening to be around men of God.”
Allen, who now lives in Indianapolis, joked about how as a child he tried to convince Smith to allow him to run Smith’s store, Beautiful Things at the Village Shopping Center. When it did not work, Allen sold candy out of his grandfather’s garage with a paid staff.
Jenkins said his mother told him and his brother they were going to Indiana University Northwest on Saturday mornings to be in a group called African American Achievers Youth Corps.
“We were already busy with sports and other after school programs, but we went,” he said with a laugh.
Along with plaques and accolades, a brief memorial ceremony was held for six members who died within the 20 years — Oscar Brown, Jr., Blake E. King, Breon Djamal Bond, Jeremy Lee Gearn, Justin Evans and Berniel Fuller.