by Najee El-Amin —
A select group of young men at Westwood High School symbolically transitioned into manhood during A Rite of Passage: From Boys to Men, which took place at the school.
Seniors and student-athletes dressed in their best button-down shirts adorned the auditorium during the program, which featured principal Julia Callaway and various other community leaders, including Shelby County Commissioner Edmond Ford Jr. and the Rev. Melvin D. Watkins Jr., senior pastor of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church-Westwood.
Throughout the evening event (Nov. 12), the young men took in words of wisdom from notables, including some who were Westwood alumni.
Presenters shared advice on what the young men could expect as they ascend into adulthood, with some reflecting on their time at the school. There was considerable emphasis on the importance of responsibility – whether that be performing well academically or taking care of business outside of the classroom.
“I wanted our men to see some of the alumni who had gone to Westwood and were successful and have walked down those very same halls they walk down,” said Pamela Lee, a Westwood alum and organizer of the event.
“It’s extremely important that they have Black male role models, especially those who come from that same community. It lets them know that their goals are attainable.”
While attending a similar ceremony at Tennessee State University in Nashville, Lee said she was inspired and committed to bring a similar experience to the high school level. With the help of fellow alumni (both men and women), support was garnered to hold the event and purchase ceremonial neckties for all of the young men.
“I would like for it to be an annual event,” said Lee. “I would also like to do it for every male in the school.”
Joseph Lee (no relation), a 1975 alumnus of Westwood High School, served as the keynote speaker.
“I came out of Westwood with a real desire to have a positive, forward-thinking outlook and believed that I could achieve anything I really committed myself, my attention and my efforts towards. I basically shared that concept to these young boys, now soon-to-be men,” said Lee.
“Even though this is a high school group, it’s not too early to emphasize to them the importance of decision-making and to begin to spark that fire to make some successful steps forward.”
Lee recited several quotes from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., including this one: “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
Then – in his own words – Lee said, “Learn, prepare and position yourself to make the best decision that you can to blaze your pathways. Ignorance and stupidity are not where you want to be.”
The Rites of Passage concluded with the boys symbolically taking their first steps into manhood. Each was given his own tie bearing Westwood’s signature blue-and-red color scheme, hands-on instructions on how to tie it and a point of reference for what the tie represented.