Some local men are working to form a new group devoted to helping young African American males become better sons, fathers, husbands and citizens.

Calling themselves “Men on Fire,” the group has been meeting since January and is writing a strategic plan that will outline their objectives.

So far, they have identified several key issues and challenges:

–The “daddy deficit disorder,” or the need for more black fathers to commit to the children they help create.

–A lack of faith or church involvement in some communities.

–A lack of education and/or training among young black males.

–A lack of hope and love, especially for black women.

Willie Ratchford, director of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Community Relations Committee and a founding member of Men on Fire, said the idea grew from a Black Male Community Summit held earlier this year at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church.

“We’re concerned about a lot of things that are happening to young black males in the community,” he said. “We need brothers to step up to the plate, frankly. The more and more I hear these stories and what’s going on, it drives me crazy.”

Ratchford said he sometimes hears stories of young black males who have fathered a dozen or more children, all with different mothers.

He said many of the problems that plague black communities can be traced to absent fathers. During one planning session, he said, the group talked about the need for black men to love black women with the same love they often show for their closest male friends.

“In some instances, they are willing to die for another brother,” Ratchford said. “Why can’t we get young black men to love women the same way, to be willing to stand up for then, and in some cases die for them?”

When asked if Charlotte needs another black male groups when others are engaged in similar work, Ratchford said yes. Men on Fire is not meant to compete with other groups, he said, so much as work with them. He said the various groups especially should not compete for scarce financial resources.

“Our problems are so pervasive,” he said, “that another and another and another might be needed… If we (black men) don’t do this, who will? How can we expect others to do what we are unwilling to do to save black youth?”

As much as the group seeks to identify and fix what’s wrong in black communities, members also emphasize a need to celebrate all that is positive.

“Many young Black men and women are doing great things in Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and we must acknowledge and celebrate their success,” the draft document reads. “Their success is often not viewed as being newsworthy. Be it academic, athletic, social or otherwise, these stories must come to the forefront with our assistance.”

Ratchford said Men on Fire is open to men of all faiths.

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