POV: Male youth empowerment is a community effort to push young Black men to their fullest potential and ultimately increase their odds of success. This starts with strengthening families–the foundation of love and support.

 We have placed a lot of attention on moms’ wellness and the mother and son relationship (check out our 2021 Mother & Son Conference), and with Father’s Day approaching, it is time to shine the light on fatherhood. Not only do we want to encourage and applaud those who proudly step into the role, but we also want to teach our Youth Leaders what being a good father is all about.

The CDC reports that children whose fathers are active in their lives result in increased chances of academic success and reduced chances of delinquency and substance abuse. Additionally, we have learned from the CDC that Black fathers have become the most involved in their children’s lives over the years. 

Click here to join us at the Center for Urban Families’ 2022 Black Fathers Pledge Rally! 

Today is an opportunity to highlight a few great fathers in our community who not only provide for their immediate family but for the I Am Mentality family as well. Each of the men on this list is dedicated to building brighter futures for youth and a better Baltimore.


Ryan Dunston

A mentor, financial advisor, philanthropist, husband, father, and leader–Ryan Dunston of HomeTown Lenders talks with I Am Mentality Youth Leaders about life and how to manage their money. In a Saturday Lunch & Learn session at our Co-Balt Workspace, he challenged them to think about their financial decisions. “When 2k29 come out,” he said, “you getting it?” Watch the reel.

“I wanted to be a basketball player, just like every other child in Baltimore City. Because I had no positive male influences in my life close enough to pick up on my bad habits and patterns, I didn’t have anyone to motivate me, push me, and hold me accountable; no matter how good I was,” he said in our recent interview with him on fatherhood.

“The one positive male influence in my life was my Godfather. I got to analyze his life from a distance which ultimately gave me a life to shoot for. I can remember spending time with him prior to him getting married which really imprinted something opposite of what I had experienced from my father, grandfather and uncles. When my Godfather got married, I remember telling myself, ‘I want to be this kind of man, this kind of father, this kind of husband’”

Now Mr. Dunston works as a Loan Officer and Community Outreach Coordinator. He collaborated with 13 authors to write a book titled “Black Men Love”. He has also launched Dunston & Associates with his wife, Patrice Dunston, and started The Ryan Dunston Podcast…Words from a Humble King.

Gary Franklin

Mr. Gary, a husband, father of five adult children, and I Am Mentality Mentor, is a leader in character building and health & wellness. He’s there to greet our Youth Leaders participating in jiu-jitsu classes at Guardian Baltimore every week and he’s also there for our bike rides with SOY Baltimore, visits to Earth Treks, camp trips and more. 

Growing up, Mr. Gary wanted to be a doctor, but today he is a realtor with HomeSmart. He remembers receiving tough love from his father who was very hard on him and his three sisters. 

He remembers all of the lessons that his dad taught him like, curfew time, household chores had to be done, no excuses, don’t count/spend what you don’t have, don’t lend money, always have a job, whatever you do (job, chores, school…) don’t do it “halfa..”, school is a job, protect the family and house when dad’s not home.

Watch a clip of Mr. Gary’s virtual session with our Youth Leaders on character building.

Bobby Holmes

 Mr. Bobby Holmes, LMSW, Founder of Son of a Dream Services and Multimedia Resources and author, spends time engaging I Am Mentality Youth Leaders in discussions about life issues that affect mental health. He has led several book talks to discuss his works with our youth: Strong Mental Health Awareness for Black Boys and 100! Real Talk for Our Boys

Although Mr. Holmes’ first joy is writing, he was inspired by the movie Bad Boys which sparked an interest for him to become a police officer when he was 12 years old. He knew he wanted to help people and loved the idea of Black cops.

“My parents laid a foundation and taught the most important thing–hard work. They established work ethic,” he said during our most recent interview with him. He was fortunate enough to have a father figure in the home when his mother married in his early years. It was this foundation that motivated him to go out and mop floors and scrub toilets when he first began working.

Holmes went on to talk about his time at Baltimore City College and studying Journalism at Morgan State. Mr. Holmes ventured out on his own at 19 and didn’t know much about community or journalism at the time until his first mentor, Roderick C. Willis, took him under his wing.

In October 2021, Holmes was featured in a WMAR Podcast called, 2Bmore: Black Fatherhood in Baltimore, along with TJ Smith and Matt Prestbury. 

Although his biological father wasn’t around, he still had an influence and major impact. “I realized at a very early age that I didn’t want to make the same decisions he made. He became the example of what I didn’t want to be,” Holmes explained.  

Check out Bobby Holmes’ spoken word.

Watch this video to learn more about our partnership with Bobby Holmes and Son of a Dream, LLC.


Michael Jackson

“Mr. Mike”, Owner & Operator of A Little Faith Accounting & Tax Services, is a founding member of I Am Mentality Youth Male Empowerment Project. For six years, he has facilitated Financial Literacy sessions with I Am Mentality youth.

Jackson is also a proud husband and father of three children. He wanted to be a truck driver as a child and knew that he wanted to continue his family legacy by becoming a business owner. Though he wasn’t always sure of which direction he’d go, he had a lot of help along the way.

“From teachers, mentors, friends, family, to clients, advisors, coaches, and even total strangers that have helped me in some shape or form. I have so much gratitude for those that have helped me get to where I am and for those that will help me going forward,” says Jackson.

When it comes to his dad, he said, “There was a time where I thought my father was too far from me to talk to, so I held a lot in and attempted to figure things out myself.”

Although he considers himself fortunate to have had his father in his life growing up, he shared that it wasn’t the best situation.

Mr. Mike remembers his grandfather teaching him “‘Whatever you do in life, do your best’. As long as you are doing your best, you will have no regrets. You also don’t have to compete with anyone else but yourself.”

It is because of his grandfather that he wanted to marry one woman and be there for his children and grandchildren. He also recalls many mentors who are his father figures, his karate family, older men in his life and leaders from a bible academy who steered him the right way.

John Sly

“My father was a history buff and a history teacher. My family regularly discussed philosophical, religious and political issues which led me to consider working in government/politics,” said I Am Mentality Mentor, Mr. John Sly who eventually started his own political campaign consulting firm. He is now a lawyer and a partner at a boutique firm representing hospitals, health care providers and other businesses.

Mr. Sly leads Financial Literacy discussions with our Youth Leaders. In his latest session, they talked about the power of building a professional network. Before that, they talked about real estate. Watch this reel

Most recently, Sly joined the Youth Leaders at Bluestone Restaurant for an etiquette class facilitated by The International School of Protocol. Here’s the recap on TikTok.

Sly is also married and has four children–two of which are cats.

Kawahn Young

Husband, father of three and Founder & Executive Director of Save Our Young (SOY) Baltimore, Mr. Kawahn Young joined the Baltimore City Police Department after graduating from Paul Laurence Dunbar Senior High School in 2002. He has worked for the Baltimore County Police Department since July 2012 and is now assigned as a School Resource Officer at Woodlawn High School and Meadowood Alternative School, “two of the most challenging schools in the area” he said. 

Young facilitates Law Enforcement sessions with our Youth Leaders and organizes community bike rides in an effort to build better relationships between police officers and Baltimore City youth. He also facilitated a movie night where youth discussed situations in a documentary about a boy growing up in an inner city. Watch the reel.

As a child, he wanted to play in the NFL and it was his coaches and elders in the community who guided him through his adolescent years.

“What I remember most about my dad is his resilience and optimism,” says Young.


Darren Rogers










I Am Mentality Executive Director, Mr. Darren Rogers explains in the video above that he formed the organization because of the positive impact that mentors had on his own life. He grew up in a single-parent home and he attributes his success to having guidance from people he could look up to.

Rogers is also married and has two daughters. His wife, Asia Rogers of A Rogers Apparel, has been an avid supporter and volunteer to push I Am Mentality’s mission forward. She will be participating in our 6th Anniversary Gala as a community partner.

Mr. Rogers will attend the 2022 Black Fathers Pledge Rally presented by the Center for Urban Families on Friday, June 17 along with several other I Am Mentality fathers.