JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Nearly two dozen young men took an oath and accepted a tie Friday night at First Coast High School on Jacksonville's Northside.
The ceremony launched 23 teens into the 5000 Role Models of Excellence program. It’s about character, behavior, pushing hard in academics and self-esteem.
"This means so much to me," said Paul Gordon Jr., a senior at First Coast High School. "It lets me get a better goal in life. It makes me want to do better in life. And it makes me want to improve on things that I haven't improved on."
There was a group of just six young men for the program last year. Benjamin Ballard, with 5000 Role Models of Excellence, said there are now nearly four times as many.
"It's a brotherhood and a family," Ballard said. "These young men will go into the community, the schools at day and grab another young man and say, 'You know, what I want to help you and you need to come and become part of the 5000 Role Models.'"
The ceremony included encouragement from Bishop John Guns -- both inspiring words and challenging words.
"Real talk? You're young black men. You're African-American males. There's a whole lot that comes with that," Guns said.
But the word the mentors spoke and the oath the young men affirmed are the words that seem to make a difference to the future of the boys and the future of the community.
"I've set different goals in order to enroll myself in college," said 17-year-old Samuel Phillips, a senior at First Coast. "And I'm outlining my career goals and what I want to be when I grow up and what kind of person I really want to be. I'm starting to find out more about myself."
Beyond the 23 student participants, about a dozen men committed to mentoring the high schoolers throughout this year.
"I want to be able to empower these young men and teach them some of the ropes, the roles that I've been down so they don't make those mistakes and that they become a strong community member,' Ballard said. "That's what it's about -- being a strong community member."