EVERETT — For the first couple of weeks, Marquirus Jennings was, by his own account, acting foolish.
He was loud and fidgety and disruptive.
He’d been asked to participate in “Passport to Manhood,” a program at Voyager Middle School offered through the Boys & Girls Club.
The class teaches boys to consider what kind of men they want to become. In the beginning, only about half of the boys said they had a positive male role model in their lives.
Over the past eight weeks, the boys have learned a definition of manhood that includes respect, kindness and caring. On Tuesday, they graduated from their first year in the program. They call their group “Our Future” and they plan to return as eighth-graders for a second session. As part of a short ceremony, they voted for a group motto that Marquirus suggested: Do what it takes to be a man.
The program is led by Jake Marsh with the Boys & Girls Club and Tony Thammavongsa with the StockPot factory in Everett, a division of the Campbell Soup Co.
Their focus is on young men who are struggling in school or at home, Marsh said. They talk to the boys about gangs and street life and schools, and the way your choices affect your life. Success is not how it looks in the movie “Scarface.”
The first week, Marsh asked the boys to list the qualities they associate with manhood.
“It was all ‘gets money,’ ‘gets girls,’ things like that,” he said.
The group repeated that exercise Tuesday. There were new suggestions, including the word “mature,” offered by student Montez Young.
The boys said they’ve been rethinking how they communicate with their parents and mentors. Sometimes respect means leaving your pride behind, student Adrian Seeber said. Montez sees respect as a way to become more trustworthy. That’s a goal of his.
Respect takes work to earn, even from each other, student Yeabkal Shewangezaw said.
“There’s a lot more to being a real man than we thought in the beginning,” Marquirus said.
“What I learned from this is, when you’re being a man, you have to take care of a lot of things,” Montez said.
Each boy spoke for a few minutes Tuesday about manhood. Marquirus brought his speech on graph paper, folded into a square. He raised his hand to go first.
Early on, “everyone was full of themselves, even me,” he said. “I had no respect whatsoever. The reason for that was, I was ignorant. I was too focused on the negative things.”
Adrian also prepared his speech.
In the program, “we messed around until we knew what it was,” Adrian said. “Now everyone is a man and knows what a man is.”
About two weeks in, the mentors had threatened to kick out students for rowdiness, Adrian said.
He remembers telling the others to stop goofing off. Speaking up like that was new for him. He told the boys that the mentors were coming to help them, not to waste their time.
Marquirus knew others were watching him, and they might follow his lead. He tuned in.
When they started listening, they started learning, student Zae Shaun Easton said.
“They told us real life things that are going on,” Marquirus said. “They were really frustrated with us. We just clicked. We all got it.”
As Marquirus began changing his behavior, others became more respectful toward him, he said. He now defines respect as “your words that you use and your actions, the actions you give toward someone.”
Marquirus is on the school basketball team, and he thinks the sport could be his future.
Adrian’s definition of respect is a little different: “If you show somebody that you want to help them, they should want you to help them. If I’m kind to you, you could be kind to me.”
This year, Adrian was the group’s passport holder, a big responsibility. Adrian is thinking of becoming an accountant or a game warden.
On Tuesday, he was asked to pick the passport holder for next year, someone to hold onto the document all summer. Adrian chose Marquirus.
Rikki King: 425-339-3449; firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Passport to Manhood,” a program offered by the South Everett/Mukilteo Boys & Girls Club, serves boys in seventh and eighth grades. Sponsors, donors, volunteers and guest presenters are needed. Topics include education, career development, healthy lifestyles and character. For more information, contact Jake Marsh at 425-355-6899 or email@example.com.