The Honore’ Center, a new program at SUNO,
is dedicated to reclaiming young Black men
by Hank Brady
Is the Honore’ Center a place or is it more of an idea?
A bit of contemplative laughter ensues before the Center’s director Warren Bell says, “I like how you put that. It is more of an idea.”
The Honore’ Center for Undergraduate Student Achievement (HCUSA) is a new pilot program at Southern University at New Orleans that provides structure and academic opportunities to at-risk, young, African-American men. But more than that, the program has the expressed goal of finding these young men and offering them an alternative pipeline that forks in the opposite direction of Louisiana’s prison system which has laid claim to the lives of countless young, Black men.
The program officially started last fall and currently has 13 students enrolled.
Through the Honore Center, Bell wants to help lead these young men away from corridors of iron bars and hopelessness, where one in every 14 Black men from New Orleans finds himself. That’s one reason the Honore Center is a part of the Five-Fifths Agenda for America, a national program also implemented at Jackson State University which Southern University System President Ron Mason has described as “an aggressive and multi-dimensional response to a veritable state of emergency that exists in the education and socialization of African-American males.”
In a recently televised interview with WDSU-TV, Mason said the Honore Center and the Five-Fifths Agenda are “designed to reclaim and develop Black male human capital,” and to address the “cradle-to-prison pipeline and its consequences.”
“This is the bigger vision of President Mason,” Bell says. “It states that HBCU’s are inherently and uniquely suited to address this problem of the Black male and his place in America.”
“President Mason had the vision of taking the resources that a HBCU can bring to the table, and addressing the critical need to try and help more young black males,” says Bell whose passion as program director can be heard in his voice. “We not only want to get them from high school but to successfully do it and along the way develop them as leaders that can give back to the community.”
The Honore’ Center is named for former US Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore’, a Louisiana native who may be most recognized for his bold leadership as commander of ground operations in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. His actions were captured on national television, championed by the local community, and made Honore’ an inspirational figure synonymous with toughness, discipline, and doing things the right way.
While Bell admits it was not Honore’s idea to put his name on the program, his encouragement of the program, his enthusiastic support for the young men the program reaches, and his network of sponsorship has been invaluable.
“He has been is a wonderful inspiration and most importantly he has mentioned us to some of the people he rubs elbows with. And those people have become generous with us and have donated money to provide these young men with additional needs,” says Bell.
Bell, a St. Augustine High School alum, may be best remembered for his stints as a local news anchor, most notably with WVUE-TV (Fox8) in the 80s to mid-90s. Nowadays he expounds on the “hidden stars” he believes this program has discovered.
“I see our future young Black leadership,” he says. “I see young men who are truly wonderful, young men who come from some tough situations, who can tell you about seeing people murdered in front of them and who can tell you about walking through the flood waters of the Lower Ninth Ward during Katrina to get to the God-forsaken (conditions) of the Morial Convention center or something worse. Our poorest among us were most affected by Katrina and some of my young men (now 18, 19 years old) are the young men who were in the Orleans Parish public school system at the time of the hurricane and came back to New Orleans to finish school, but had to live with aunts, uncles, or grandparents, or whomever and for whom, frankly, our environment is a welcomed situation.”
To qualify for the program, students have to be Pell Grant eligible for financial aid, yet unable to meet the state’s mandated standards for admission to SUNO. As such, students must first get accepted to Southern University at Shreveport, a community-college, where general course studies and academic credits will be transferred to SUNO when 18 hours of approved classes are met.
The students receive room and board on SUNO’s campus.
“We have a very structured environment and we don’t pretend to be anything other than that,” Bell says. “Our young men have a curfew every night, a mandatory study-hall, and a lot of manhood development stuff—Like ‘Manhood Monday’ where select speakers and Black entrepreneurs are committed to helping these young men develop into the complete package.”
He continues, “All of their textbooks for all of their semesters, their laptops that were issued in September; we provide that. We also provide them with a small monthly stipend to encourage them not to get (off campus jobs).”
The thinking is to keep these young men in development-mode and away from the temptations.
Most importantly, Bell says, these students must commit to becoming classroom teachers in the New Orleans community for at least two years. For the candidates, this two-year teaching commitment provides forgiveness for all financial aid and loans received. It is destined to provide much more for the community, however.
“The premise is basically that these young men return to schools like the schools they came from because we have a vision for these men to be positive role models for other young Black men who are still at-risk of ending up on the wrong pipeline instead of the pipeline to campus,” Bell says. “I’ve had the honor and privilege to visit most of these (local) high schools, meet most of these young men directly and offer them this opportunity, but also a challenge. With us the thing is we’re going to get (the students) through this, but at the end of the day they’re going to give it back to us, because they’re going to give back to the community.”
Editor’s Note: In response to what we have long perceived as an urgent need to uplift and transform the lives of young, Black males, McKenna Publishing pledged to donate revenue from the city’s Flip the Script campaign through advertisement placed in The New Orleans Tribune to an organization that worked to that end. We are proud to share that McKenna Publishing donated funds from ad revenue to assist students at the Honore’ Center for Undergraduate Student Achievement.