Correct, Comfort, and Confirm: How the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta Ignites the Unlimited Potential of Young Leaders
By Dr. Darrell Hall, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta Alumnus, Rockdale County Board Member
I stepped into my first Boys & Girls Club at the age of 6. My mother needed a safe and affordable place for me to go after school while she worked to take care of me and my younger siblings. From age 6-18, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta (BGCMA) became so much more than an after-school program. It changed the trajectory of my life.
The former W. W. Woolfolk Boys & Girls Club gave me a sense of belonging. Upon entering the blue doors of my local Club, I was often greeted with “What’s up, D. Hall?” Those smiling faces and familiar voices who knew my name became my community. Those same voices were used to correct, comfort, and confirm me at pivotal moments.
In a world where young black men are often shown they aren’t allowed to make mistakes, I was given grace and corrected in moments of poor decision making. I can recall a time when I was in a standoff with another boy, and we were prepared to brawl. I can still hear the voice of Mr. Marlon in my head: “Darrell, if you don’t back down, I’m going to have to suspend you.” In my boyish pride, I quipped back: “Mr. Marlon, do what you have to do.” And boy did he ever. After a week sitting home, I missed his voice.
In a world where young black men are often taught not to express their emotions, I was comforted in moments of failure. Distractions at school landed me in a scary place of receiving 5 F’s out of 7 classes. Though I deserved correction, I received comfort. I can recall the voice of Ms. Shay who reassured me that I was better and could therefore do better. Her voice mattered. I worked tirelessly to get back in good academic standing, and my Club eventually nominated me to be Youth of the Year (YOY).
Through this annual leadership development program, thousands of Club teens participate in local, state and regional competitions in hopes to become the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s national teen spokesperson as the National Youth of the Year. I was fortunate to win YOY for metro Atlanta in 2003 and for the state of Georgia in 2004. Long before winning these titles, my heart was warmed that my Club’s leaders believed in me. In a world where young black men aren’t held to high esteem, their confirmation meant the world to me.
Yet, worlds expand with exposure. The exposure I received through YOY and Keystone Club introduced me to spheres that were unknown. Keystone Clubs provide leadership development opportunities for young people ages 14 to 18 who participate in activities in three focus areas: academic success, career preparation and community service. Traveling to Keystone conferences via airplane had an impact on my point of view. An aerial view is always broader than sight at ground level. So, experiencing takeoff to places I had never been allowed my imagination to takeoff to possibilities I had never believed.
What Keystone Club did for my perspective, YOY did for my character. The rigor of speechwriting, interviewing, and soft skills training shaped me in ways that I would never devolve. YOY was my portal beyond the world of my Club into the worlds of my Club’s board members. They invited me to represent the Club in their country clubs and corporate downtown high rises. I had never seen a golf course, let alone homes on one. I had never felt the adrenaline of an elevator lifting me to the 50th floor. I had never experienced authentic support from people of vastly different socioeconomic statuses, educational backgrounds, and ethnicities. Their love erased the demographical lines that would have otherwise alienated us. Today, as a Rockdale County board member supporting the A.R. “Gus” Barksdale Boys & Girls Club, I hope that I might be able to do the same.
It’s a full-circle experience to be able to give back to an organization that gave so much to me, and the impact is still happening in my life. I recently attended BGCMA’s inaugural “Topgolf Fundraiser: Driving Great Futures” event on July 15. With 62 bays sold and 450 registered attendees, the event, raffles, and silent auction raised more than $175,000 for our workforce readiness programming, which exposes our Club teens to ACT/SAT preparation, resume building, interviewing workshops, career exploration, and college tours.
In addition to workforce readiness for Club teens, our fall 2021 programming at BGCMA will include an increased focus on academic enrichment. As part of a state-wide funding effort from Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s Office focused on addressing learning gaps caused by COVID-19, BGCMA anticipates receiving $2.8 million to support our academic enrichment programs. This will include:
- Identifying teachers and academic support coaches to deliver targeted tutoring to youth in our Clubs
- Supporting training and development in academic support for Club staff
- Leveraging academic intervention applications for enrichment and assessment
- Maximizing research-informed Club programs and strategies (Project Learn, Summer Brain Gain, Power Hour Tutoring, and other STEAM and trauma-informed programming)
- Expanding partnerships with schools
The voices of BGCMA shaped me to become a voice that shapes others. As a pastor, I use my voice to shape the people in my congregation. As an author, I use my voice to shape preachers and speakers into effective intergenerational communicators. As a public speaking coach, I use my voice to shape other voices into powerful forces of catalytic influence.
BGCMA’s footprint may look a bit different than it did when I was a child, but the spirit of the Clubs remains as vibrant and powerful as ever. Though we face uncertainties due to the ongoing pandemic, I remain hopeful that we have the right people championing the right mission: to ignite the unlimited potential of our kids & teens. I am honored to support BGCMA staff and leaders as we forge forward together to correct, comfort, and confirm our youth as they navigate pivotal moments in their lives.
About Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta (BGCMA): For more than 80 years, Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta (BGCMA) has ignited the unlimited potential of kids and teens by creating safe, inclusive, and engaging environments. Our 25 Clubs located in 11 counties across metropolitan Atlanta have traditionally served nearly 3000 Club members (ages 6-18) each day, offering youth development programs during critical non-school hours that promote academic success, healthy lifestyles, and character & leadership. BGCMA also oversees Camp Kiwanis, a 160-acre outdoor residence camp. To learn more about BGCMA, follow us on social media: Twitter (@BGCMA_Clubs), Facebook (BGCMA), LinkedIn (Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta), and Instagram (bgcmATL), or visit us online at www.bgcma.org.