Boys Leadership Summit organizers said they want to help young men understand that it's not only what they say to a judge or jury that determines the court outcome, but also the actions they take before then, even the way they talk to police officers and authority figures.
"You can't just curse out an officer and go into a rage. You've got to be respectful when people ask you a question and get an understanding of what is going on," said boys summit co-chairman Temus Terry.
Terry is among more than a dozen men preparing for the more than 300 boys in grades 6-12 and parents expected to attend the fourth annual Boys Leadership Summit today at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's engineering building.
"The goal is to cultivate the minds of the young boys and expose them to leadership skills that they may not receive in the classroom," said summit co-organizer Chris Ramsey.
The summit brings together boys with older men willing to mentor them to achieve their goals. More men are needed to participate as mentors.
U.S. District Court Judge Curtis L. Collier will be the main speaker. The theme of the event is Today's Trayvon Martin.
In a case that drew national attention, Martin, a 17-year-old unarmed black teen, was fatally shot in February 2012 by Florida Neighborhood Watch coordinator George Zimmerman. He said he thought Martin looked suspicious and started following him.
Zimmerman pleaded self-defense and was found not guilty in Martin's death.
Some boys are imitating scenes from reality TV shows when they talk to authority figures, Terry said. His goal is to let young people know that they can't act like that in the real world and have the best outcome for themselves.
"We want these young men to know they are playing with their lives. That's why we're choosing Today's Trayvon as a theme," Terry said.
The daylong event will also include workshops focused on wellness issues, including obesity and sexually transmitted diseases, life skills, education, careers, hip-hop culture and relationships focused on self-respect and respecting others.
Dr. Rozario Slack, pastor of Temple of Faith Deliverance Church of God in Christ, will speak to parents about raising sons, and other presenters will give information about preparing for college, said Ramsey.
Workshop Presenter Willie Richardson will discuss racial profiling. He will also address how the boys are expected to operate in mainstream society.
Because a lot of the young men are growing up without fathers, they lack role models, said Richardson, a husband and father of two children.
"A lot of young men have not been taught how to deal socially when it comes to conflict resolution, appearance and accepting authority," he said. "So we're going to deal with how to present yourself when you want people to take you seriously."
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman @timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6431.