If you met Glenda Hatchett, you might not recognize her as the gavel-wielding judge who presided over juvenile court TV for nearly 10 years.
Inside the Rev. Bill McGill’s office at Imani Baptist Temple on Sunday morning, she sat with a soft smile and rosy cheeks, hands resting in her lap on the skirt of a crisp crème dress just before the 9:30 a.m. service.
These days, Hatchett spends much of her time helping youths avoid court by speaking to churches and communities about the importance of intergenerational mentorship.
She said she usually spends Sunday mornings worshipping with her family in Georgia. But she flew to Fort Wayne this weekend for two reasons: to speak about the My Brother’s Keeper program at Imani Baptist Temple and to address the spike of violent crimes and homicides plaguing Fort Wayne’s southeast quadrant.
A self-proclaimed storyteller, Hatchett came to tell Fort Wayne, including roughly 75 MBK students, about the adults in her life who wouldn’t let her give up her dreams. She came to show youths there is another way and remind adults they have the power to curb violence on the streets by taking on mentor roles in the community.
“These problems are not something the government and the police can solve by themselves,” Hatchett said. “The solution has to come from the bottom up in what we do and how we do it.”
Part of her message involves establishing mentor relationships with youth.
She said youth programs should capitalize on the students’ talents, and they should educate the older students to mentor the younger students and form brotherly bonds.
It’s a model she practices in her programs, and it’s a message she sees lived out in programs such as MBK.
“The problem in our community is that nobody is calling our boys ‘son’ anymore,” Hatchett said.
But she wasn’t talking only about the lack of fathers in single-parent households. She also was calling on the community to come together as surrogate mothers and fathers to keep kids in school and off the streets after school.
“Most teen pregnancies and most violence happens from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the afternoon,” Hatchett said “That’s because there are not enough watchful and helpful eyes during that time.”
Virgil Tharp, executive director of MBK, said that’s exactly what the program was designed to do when it started six years ago; to give young men a reason to meet throughout the week for community service, personal enrichment and brotherly bonding.
Since then, the program has grown from 10 boys in an office at Miami Middle School to about 100 middle and high school boys at Miami, New Tech, Wayne, Snider, Southside and Dwenger.
“It’s not rocket science,” Tharp said. “We build relationships with young men, and they work hard for us because they know we love them, and we call them sons.”
Tharp helped start MBK at Miami when he came to the school to mentor his younger cousin and eventually became an assistant administrator there.
Once on staff, he joined his own former mentor and fellow Miami staffer GorDon Martin in helping the then-small group of boys develop goals and held them accountable to meet those goals.
One early member of MBK was Kye Black, 17, who is now a student at New Tech High School.
Black said the MBK program comes down to brotherhood – having someone to lean on and talk to.
“It’s about spending more time with your brothers helps you create a better bond so when a conflict does arise, you know how to resolve it,” Black said. “When it comes to violence in the city, if younger boys have an older brother who wants to push them to greatness and help them stay off the streets, then they want to give back and do the same for someone else.”
Breon Kinnie, 16, also at New Tech, said he was one of the younger people being mentored in the MBK program who looked to Black’s generation for guidance.
“It felt like I had not only friends, but brothers to look up to,” Kinnie said. “Other organizations don’t have that bond. They aren’t as close as we are.”
Almost all of the MBK students and staff attended Hatchett’s speech on Sunday at Baptist Temple where they usually meet each Sunday to learn about character and respect.
“Our mission is that everyone goes to college,” Tharp said.
But MBK’s requirements are more than college admission. The students perform 30 hours of community service, maintain A’s and B’s in school and wear what Tharp calls uniforms with “no pants below the waist.”
“Originally, I thought middle school and high school boys would never go for that, but people want to be a part of something greater than themselves,” Tharp said.
Gralan Early, another member of MBK staff and a former Miami Middle School teacher and ISS Coordinator, noticed the boys in MBK had fewer referrals in school once they started the program, and they began to set their sights higher.
“They think more of themselves when the expectations we set up for them are higher,” Early said.
After Hatchett’s speech, McGill announced that he will be fasting for 40 days from Nov. 16 until Christmas and praying to help curb violence in Fort Wayne.
He said Imani Baptist Temple’s doors will be open 7 to 8 p.m. for community prayer during those days, and he invites other area churches to open their doors, too.
“I’m serious about trying to change the spiritual atmosphere of this community,” McGill said.