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Q&A with Tony Nichelson

Founder of Man of the House Mentoring

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For the past 15 years, Tony Nichelson has been distributing his list of "110 Tasks Every Man Should Know How to Do Before Ninth Grade" to churches, schools, and anywhere else young men can be found, including juvenile detention. We caught up with Nichelson to find out more about his Man of the House Mentoring program and his plans to teach young men how to ride city buses.

Chris Shaw

Flyer: What's the background of the Man of the House Mentoring program?

Nichelson: Fifteen years ago, when I was working for the District of Columbia Public Schools system, I wrote a list of 110 tasks that every young man should know how to do before ninth grade. I wrote it because our young men had virtually no skills in terms of making a living. I decided that these are the things that a little guy needs to know in order to help his mom, and I began sharing the list with childrens services and juvenile courts.

Six years ago, I held the first event with Man of the House Mentoring at the National Civil Rights Museum. It pulled together 110 boys and 50 mentors for a tour of the museum. The event put a lot of the tasks on my list in motion, from hands-on exercises to spiritual fellowship. My theory is, give them some courage and confidence, teach them how to do some things, and then put them to work. Since that first event, we've been in over 100 schools and we've done dozens of presentations for middle school boys. Man of the House is just a grass-roots, community-based effort to connect these young men to the things they need to be doing at home and in the community.

Where do you pull most of the kids from?

Forty [local] schools have embraced the concept, and we just recently set up the first permanent Man of the House Club at the Hollis F. Price School at LeMoyne-Owen College. This is the first time we've created an on-campus club for mentoring, and it meets just like the chess club or any other on-campus organization. We cover everything from hands-on skills to the history of the civil rights movement.

Tell me more about Man of the House's "MATA GETS Memphis" event that's taking place next weekend.

It's based on parents who are afraid to let their 15-year-old sons ride the bus by themselves. That's the root of the event. For a long time we have been urging young men to become familiar with the bus system. And now, with the help of MATA and Shelby County Sheriff Bill Oldham, we are able to get an event up and running. GETS is an acronym for Geography Education Tour for Students. We anticipate about 50 boys and 10 mentors, in addition to sheriff's deputies and other volunteers.

The boys will ride for an hour around the city, taking notes on their observations and what they learned about the bus system. After the ride, they'll return to the MATA North End Terminal for lunch. If the event is successful, we want to start doing it twice a month with students from different schools.

Why is it important to get these young men familiar with the bus system?

There's not an app for everything. Sometimes boys need to see it for themselves and trust themselves to know how to do something. They need to see that you can take a bus from Westwood to Wolfchase and return home. You're probably familiar with the Harvard study and the University of California Berkeley study that said that Memphis is the most economically segregated city in America.

That happens because the people who are really poor don't have cars or transportation, and they can't go to where the jobs are. It's important for all of our boys and girls to know that this entire city is where they are from and not just one neighborhood. We want our young men to experience this, so as they get older and seek employment, they know they can get a bus schedule and end up with a job in East Memphis.

The date for the first MATA GETS Memphis event is Saturday, April 12th at 9:30 a.m. The event is for boys ages 12-16.

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