From left, Center for the African American Male Director Antonio Leroy stands with mentor LeRoy Davis; Alex Perryman, student president; Andre Joseph, sergeant-at-arms; Peter Reece, student parliamentarian, and Student Vice President Justin Holden. The organization's work is well known on the Albany State University campus and now officials with the group hope to give it broader community exposure.
ALBANY -- Antonio Leroy is a dreamer, and he's never been afraid to dream big.
When he returned home to Albany in 1996 after his dream of professional football glory ended ("I tell folks they say NFL stands for 'National Football League,' but in my world it means 'not for me,'" Leroy jokes.), he was invited to be take part in a study of the African-American male being conducted on the campus of his alma mater, Albany State University.
From that research, and the leadership of former ASU President Billy Black, sprung the on-campus Center for the African American Male, whose mission is to help students discover their identities by allowing them to achieve their full potential as scholars and to assume leadership roles in their chosen communities upon graduation.
"At CAAM, we have a four-tier approach to reaching young males on our campus," said Leroy, who has been with the Center for the African American Male for 17 years. "We reach out to incoming students on our campus; we have a 'T-shirt of Colors' event in which we invite all fifth-grade boys in Dougherty County -- black, white, rich, poor -- and let them enjoy all they can eat and attend an ASU football game; we have a Winter Youth summit in which sixth-graders from throughout our 24-county service area are invited to our campus, and we host a National Males Conference involving other colleges and high schools."
The idea behind CAAM's involvement with youngsters, Leroy says, is to imprint upon them positive leadership at an impressionable age.
"We seek to bring out the potential in these youngsters," he said. "We encourage them to be leaders on and off campus."
The center is looking to expand its reach beyond the confines of the Albany State campus with a Black Tie Male Scholarship Banquet April 12 at ASU's new Student Center Ballroom. The 7 p.m. banquet will allow the community to join CAAM in raising funds to provide academic scholarships to area students.
"We hope to award 40 scholarships to deserving students within our service area," Leroy said. "I'm announcing this now, during the Christmas season, reaching out to the community during this season of giving. We receive Title III grant money to help fund our program, but we have no other major funding source.
"I'm looking for a strong buy-in from our local partners, from Phoebe (Putney Memorial Hospital) from Procter & Gamble from the Marine Corps Logistics Base from the Chamber of Commerce from the faith-based community. All of them -- our entire community -- will benefit from the impact CAAM has on young people."
Four Albany State students who readily proclaim the positive impact CAAM has had on their lives -- Camden County sophomore Andre Joseph, Atlanta sophomore Peter Reece, Cuthbert senior Alex Perryman and Lawrenceville senior Justin Hollen -- personify the traits Leroy says the organization helps build.
"I've been involved with CAAM since my freshman year, and through that involvement I've been the beneficiary of strong leadership and excellent role models," Perryman, a biology major who is the student president of the organization, said. "From that, I've become a leader myself, and I've grown as a person."
Joseph, whose major is business information systems, said involvement in CAAM builds character.
"What you learn, essentially, is how to be a man, how to be a better man," he said. "You improve yourself, and from that you help improve the people around you."
Albany State Athletic Director Richard Williams, who is a Center for the African American Male board member, said the organization allows its young members to achieve heights they might not have imagined.
"At Albany State, we take the individuals where they are and propel them to new heights in their lives," Williams said. "CAAM provides an opportunity to mold them as mentors, to teach them how to tutor and show others how they can reach their potential."
Leroy Davis, a 1990s basketball star at Westover High School who signed a scholarship at Auburn University before embarking on a career as a musical engineer, returned home to Albany to be closer to his family and to complete requirements for a doctoral degree in Sociology. A non-traditional student, Davis ran into Leroy during registration at ASU and was quickly sold on getting involved with CAAM as a mentor.
"When Antonio told me about the program, my getting involved was a no-brainer," Davis said. "My experiences have allowed me to involve some of these young men in the program in incredible male dialogues. These talks among men are character builders, and they help make better-prepared young men."
Tickets for the Black Tie Scholarship Banquet are $125 a person, and sponsorship packages ranging from $1,001 to $5,000-plus are available. Persons seeking more information may contact Leroy or CAAM coordinator/administrative assistant Malisha Mishoe at (229) 430-3635, (229) 430-1821 or (229) 894-5031.
"By supporting our banquet, the community will be supporting young people who are vital to the future of our region and our country," Leroy said. "There is no better investment."