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Syracuse City School District's 'Building Men Program' teaches young men the dangers of violence

Shateek Nelson took part in the Syracuse City School District's Building Men Program this summer
Ellen Abbott
Shateek Nelson took part in the Syracuse City School District's Building Men Program this summer

The Syracuse City School District's Building Men Program waded into some new territory this summer. The program, meant to support boys as they transition into adulthood, ended its summer season with a focus on violence.

17-year-old Shateek Nelson said he remembers what it used to be like growing up in the city of Syracuse.

"When I was like 10 it was easy to just go outside and go wherever, as long as you weren’t part of gang violence, you could go anywhere and have fun," Nelson said. "Now it’s like people force you to do that."

Nelson said it’s especially important for younger kids to understand how any kind of violence can change your life.

"I'm not a victim of gun violence but I’m a victim of violence," Nelson said. "It hurt me this summer, and I may or may not be able play football because I was stabbed over nothing really."

It’s that increase in violence that has prompted Joe Horan, a former physical education teacher, who created the organization in 2006, to add a component about violence to the program. A discussion on gun violence capped off a summer Olympic-type event, with Syracuse University Football players speaking to the kids.

“We added it this year. With the increase of violence coming out of COVID, the boys are in the middle of it, in school and the community," Horan said.

Horan said the program is also expanding to younger boys, who have more pressure now to make bad choices.

"The year we’re going to start in middle school, and we found our boys need extra support when they’re in school and some need after-school program pieces and after school, so after school there is something positive and rich, and talk about character," Horan said. "And mainly we give them space to talk about what is a man and how to become a man."

Mouhamed Abbaker, another veteran of the program sponsored by the Syracuse City School District, is thankful to have help navigating becoming a man in a community bedeviled by poverty and violence.

“Especially where I grew up in it’s hard to go to school and hopefully I’ll be the first one in my family to go to college and make my family proud," Abbaker said.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.