As a senior at Washington MET High school, seeing some of his friends being taken away to jail for petty crimes has not deterred Ky’le Parlmer from his path. Palmer was a part of the first annual Passport to Manhood Back to School Summit, held Nov. 17 at the Verizon Center in D.C.

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Young men from Washington MET High School attended the Passport to Manhood Summit on Nov. 17. (Courtesy Photo)

In partnership with the D.C. public school system and the Washington Boys and Girls Club, PEN DMV, an organization that strives to help the city’s youth succeed, invited 20 young men from Washington MET Senior High school to attend the summit.

Over the years the program has transformed from simply trying to keep young men off the streets and evolved to include changing the young mens’ perceptions about themselves and the images the media paints of them. “We talked about more than just the traditional,” David Street, PEN DMV Founder, told AFRO. “We noticed a lot of the kids like to be on their phones, so part of the talk centered around marketing themselves. How do you speak out if you see an injustice? We are giving them the tools to empower themselves with the content they put out.”

The summit allowed the young men to take part in discussions and training that focused on leadership, purpose, social media and decision making. The young men heard from entrepreneurs and leaders who play an active role in their communities, social media, and the STEM field. Speakers included: Robert White, D.C. At-large City Councilmember; Tony Lewis, author; and Candyce Jones, founder of Anchored Consulting, a social media management firm.

Palmer, who helps with school announcements and is active in sports, is a leader in his school as well as within his community, which is why he said he was picked for the summit. However, like other low income children, Palmer said he has had to make tough decisions to stay on the right track.

“I lost one of my best friends that I knew for eight years, but we weren’t going down the same path, so I felt like me being with him wasn’t going to be positive. So breaking that friendship was the best thing for both of us,” he said.

Students and teachers at Palmer’s school have given him the nickname of “School Celebrity,” and Palmer said he aims to be a guide for his classmates, steering them away from negative behavior and toward education. “Around my school I try to influence everybody to have hobbies and focus on something other than the streets and leaving school,” he said.

Palmer said he most appreciated Tony Lewis, whose talk centered around how young men can avoid being incarcerated. The advice stemmed from his anti-incarceration movement called, “Don’t Get Taken.”

“Tony Lewis spoke and I found that he was very similar to me because he’s been through a lot and knows how to overcome obstacles, but he still goes through every day like it’s a new day,” Palmer said. “I really connected to the part where he talked about how he hung around a lot of guys who were eventually incarcerated or deceased. A lot of my friends are in and out of jails, and I try to separate myself. I found a brotherhood with the football team and they are my friends and family now.”

Lewis said that it is important that young men understand the facts around incarceration and make strategies to avoid it.

PEN DMV started the program in 2016 as a way to keep young men off the street during after school hours. The program has expanded to include the summit. The program continues to meet twice a month during the school year and provide mentoring activities to the young men involved.

During the summit, the boys were taken on a tour of the Verizon Center and got to sit in a suite box in the empty basketball stadium. Later in the day, the boys met a couple of the Washington Wizards players and watch a game against the Knicks.

“It is important for young men to see men; to see positive influences in their community,” Lewis said.

Street said he hopes the event will be the first of many to come with their partnership with D.C. public schools, community organizations and community leaders. “This encounter can positively change a young person’s path and birth new opportunities to the future generations of Washington, D.C.,” he said.

PEN DMV has plans for an all-female summit in Feb. 2017.