Monday through Thursday, from 3:30-8 pm, a group of boys, ranging in ages 10-18, find their way to the Son of A Saint clubhouse,in the Mid-City section of New Orleans.
They attend different schools; have various interests and economic backgrounds.
What they have in common is they are predominantly African- American youth, whose fathers have been murdered.
Founded by Bivian “Sonny” Lee III five years ago, the non-profit organization offers mentoring, tutoring, character building and recreation to boys in hopes of helping them become strong men, and hoping they won’t be subject to the violence that took their fathers.
Lee’s father, NFL Saints defensive back Bivian Lee Jr., died of a heart attack when Sonny was three. Growing up fatherless, Sonny always imagines “what if” his life would have been like had his father lived. He attended school and university in New Orleans, worked for the Saints and the city’s Jazz Institute before creating Son of a Saint as a way to give back to city he loves and the boys he believes in.
I met Sonny at a wedding in September and told him about my teaching and writing, specifically my book, On the Trail of the Ancestors: A Black Cowboy’s Ride Across America. I sent him a copy of the book and educator’s guide, and he invited me to talk to a group of the boys that will be reading the book this month. They’ll also be taking horseback-riding lessons as well.
I toured the clubhouse. It’s a typical “shotgun” house, divided into two apartments that are long, like railroad cars. On one side, the boys have a pool table, a library, a computer room, and a bedroom with bunk beds. Another room holds donated sneakers and clothing that the boys were sorting. On the other side, there’s a more formal living room and dining room with a long table. Sonny explained how it was important for him to create a “home” for the boys; complete with dinner served each night prepared by chefs who donate their time. (I sampled some fabulous gumbo.) A mentor sleeps upstairs when the boys are having a sleepover next door.
I met the boys as they arrived, trickling in from school. They were interested in the writing process and amazed that someone rode a horse across the country. I noted how technology has changed so much since Miles Dean took his journey in 2007-2008. Cell phone service was spotty, GPS systems rudimentary, social media in its infancy. A trip of this type now would be done quite differently, I imagine.
I look forward to hearing what the boys think of the book as they’re introduced to historical heroes.