E. Charles Conway

It was August 9, 2014 and I was teaching a class in Cape Girardeau, when my phone started to vibrate non-stop. I picked the phone up and viewed a young black man lying in the street. I told the class that another brother had been shot in St. Louis.

As I continued the class, the phone just wouldn’t stop. I viewed it again, this time noticing a blood trail streaming away from the body. At that point someone shared that a police officer had shot this young black man, who turned out to be Michael Brown.

An immense feeling came over me, something I hadn’t felt since the age of 15. I didn’t realize until that moment that the incident from a police hitting me with a baton for no reason still was effecting me.

I was supervising a residential/outpatient treatment program in St. Louis for adolescents between the ages of 12-17 who were dealing with substance abuse. My thoughts immediately went to the residential guys and wondered how they were taking this information.

After I finished teaching, I drove back to St. Louis and ask the guys what were their feelings. A few in the group shared that they wanted to hit the streets to protest, but one stated, “Mr. Charles, you guys dropped the ball.” I asked him what does that mean? And he said you keep telling us that through peaceful protest and waiting on the process to work we will see changes.

The white distress flag went up as it relates to addressing the needs of the young brothers in our community.

This was a turning point in my life and the way Preferred Family Healthcare addressed their issues. My vice president asked me one time what we were going to do with our consumers, because they were dying and it seemed that no one knew what to do. That bothered me, because I have been specially trained in cultural specificity and dealing with black culture. It hit me that I have been dealing with black culture but somehow in the process I had hit the snooze button. At that point it became my mission to change the way treatment is presented in St. Louis to black boys.

Preferred Family Healthcare is located in many states, but part of our mission statement is providing integrated services to individuals in the communities they resides in.

So have you ever seen a house without a foundation? At this site, we introduce consumers to who they are and where they come from, which is foundation building.

Why do black men continue to keep killing each other? We have groups as well as sessions on self-esteem and pride, knowing that black lives are valuable and the many things we have accomplished and not focusing on what society tells us about ourselves.

We try to understanding different types of black families and how their views have shaped and formed the consumers we deal with today.

How are black men viewed? Through a therapeutic process which addresses the way, we dress, wear our hair, dialect, music, how some police see us, and how society as a whole views young black men.

We provide therapy to black boys who have normalized people being shot, overdosing and waking up to poverty almost every day. We assist them in believing there is a way out.

We identify mentors and resources in their communities to assist in bringing about change and venues that take them away from past dysfunctions.

We offer music therapy and have a music studio, realizing that our consumers express themselves through music.

We bring in the same police that many have feared to explain the role they play and how to change the process instead of fearing it, sometimes leading to very intense meetings relieving years of stress from encounters with police.

We have a mentor program that follows consumers up until the age of 19. We have kids who were basically written off by society who are now achieving in the same communities that wrote them off. We are working on establishing an alumni group so the consumers can become mentor’s themselves.

We understand that in a constantly changing world the need for prevention is of the most importance. We would like to begin providing intervention services in the community that are specific to the culture and community they arise in because we all know the younger we address substance abuse issues the more likely they can be prevented.

E. Charles Conway is the community manager for Preferred Family Healthcare.

“Homegrown Black Males” is a partnership between HomeGrown STL at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis and The St. Louis American, edited by Sean Joe, Benjamin E. Youngdahl Professor and associate dean at the Brown School, and Chris King, managing editor of The American, in memory of Michael Brown.

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