Exodus Homes’ Young Men of Integrity Founder Chris Johnson Wins Ukama Award at African American Cultural Center Summer Gala

Seven of the Exodus Homes’ “Young Men of Integrity” were perfect gentlemen at the African Amercian Cultural Center Summer Gala on Saturday July 26, 2008 at the Hickory Art Museum. Led by the program founder and director, Chris Johnson, who was honored with the Ukama Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Community, the young men served as ushers for the elegant affair that celebrated the evolution of the African American Cultural Center from the dream of a building, to a reality as a comprehensive online resource for the Greater Hickory Metro Region. The Young Men of Integrity is an at-risk youth mentoring program serving 25 young men from the ages of  10-19 who do not have fathers in their homes. Founded in 2006, the Exodus Homes’ United Way program pairs adult mentors with youth who need healthy male role models to learn about decision making, entrepreneurship, living drug free, treating women with respect, getting an education, preventing gang involvement, and avoiding teen pregnancy. One of the primary activities of the program is keeping the young men busy in community service projects such as Habitat for Humanity, the Christmas Bureau, Charity Chase, and neighborhood block parties with healthy youth-centered themes. They also participate in cultural or leadership development events such as the Western PIedmont Symphony, Promise Keepers, and the Man to Man Conference. Chris Johnson is the quintessential leader for this innovative program. An Exodus Homes graduate, and substance abuse counselor with The Cognitive Connection, he is a polished and dignified community activist who grew up without a father in his home, and he knows how to motivate young men. Chris helps them believe that life holds great potential for them if they will make good choices that will help them reach their goals. He says, “Inside every man there is a boy, and inside every boy there is a man. It’s up to mentors like us to reach inside a boy and find out how we can pull out the man inside.”

Six Young Men of Integrity have been designated Heroes of Hickory, African American leaders of tomorrow from Hickory High; John Smith, Michael Boyce, Jamil Johnson, Marlon Williamson, T.J. Middlebrooks and Troy Wright. Five are going to college this year: John Smith – Gardner Webb, Troy Wright – LIvingston College, T.J. MIddlebrooks – Glenville State, and Garfield Wilson – Alice Lloyd College, Desmond Johnson – Lincoln Memorial University. This first wave of college graduates plan to return to the program during summer breaks, and after graduation to become mentors themselves. The amazing success of The Young Men of Integrity has the same synergizing momentum that was seen in the phenomenal growth of Exodus Homes since 1998. Rev. Reggie Longcrier, Exodus Homes Executive Director says “This is how we want to impact the community. We are very proud of Chris and the brilliant job he is doing with his young men.”               

Duane Muhammad, Chairman of the Board for the African-American Cultural Center says “The Ukama Award is given to recognize individuals in the Hickory Metro region who work with young people of color directly or indirectly. Mr. Johnson and Young Men of Integrity exemplify the mission of the African American Cultural Center to Preserve, Promote and Inspire the culture and development of the African American community.”