By Lauren McDonald lmcdonald@thebrunswicknews.com

Cosby Johnson posed a thought-provoking question to a group of students: Which species can choose what its lifelong growth will be? 

The answer came from a quiet voice near the wall of the College of Coastal Georgia classroom, where a middle-school aged boy sat. Humans, he said.

Johnson smiled and confirmed that the boy was correct.

“What humans have been blessed with is choice,” said Johnson, vice president of government affairs for the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. “You’ve got a choice to grow.”

Most other living beings on Earth — lions, whales, trees, worms — do not have this choice, Johnson continued.

“The tree doesn’t have a choice, does it?” he asked. “… Lions don’t have a choice. They wake up every day, they’ve got to eat. They’ve got to hunt. They’ve got to move their pack. They’ve got to protect their pack. They don’t have a choice in that. That’s ingrained in them.”

Johnson’s message that morning was becoming clear for participants of this year’s two-week Boys of Summer program, which wrapped up Friday. Seventeen rising sixth- and seventh-graders from the Brunswick area took part in the program, which has been revamped to integrate a variety of life skills, like strong communication, confident public speaking and daily reflections, into academic learning.

“We started out talking about understanding your culture, understanding your community,” said Quinton Staples, director of diversity initiatives at the college. “We also talked about how to be responsible citizens and help support and hold each other accountable to help grow your community.”

The program also covered study skills, career planning, entrepreneurship, financial literacy, mental health, physical well-being, critical thinking and professionalism.

“We took some of the Georgia standards around reading comprehension, writing, communication, etc., and integrated it throughout all the topics,” Staples said.

The students arrived on the Brunswick campus each morning and first met with their teachers and attended a lecture like the one Johnson gave, which focused on the day’s theme of professionalism.

They spent time in the college classrooms reading articles and doing academic activities. They also engaged in group activities, including a lesson on how to properly tie a tie.

Each day ended in the computer lab, where the students wrote reflections of their day.

Boys of Summer aims to strengthen participants’ academic skills and introduce them to role models in the community.

“They are able to be exposed to a number of different examples of Black male success and Black male professionalism,” Staples said.

During Johnson’s talk with the students, he helped them envision their future aspirations and what they can do to reach their goals.

He gave each boy a journal and asked them first to write a few items down — their names, some form of contact information and, finally, what each boy felt he’s meant to be some day. Johnson asked them to focus on their own talents that could be cultivated for future success.

“Every single one of us in here has got something inside of us,” Johnson told the students. “I want us to think about what that is.”

The college concluded the program with a graduation for the Boys of Summer students. James Yancey, a local attorney and member of the Fourteen Black Men of Glynn, spoke during the ceremony.

The Fourteen Black Men of Glynn have partnered with the college to host the Boys of Summer program for 28 years.

The Girls of Summer program, designed for middle school girls, began this week.

“That program is set up the exact same way, just for women,” Staples said. “All the speakers for them are going to be African American women from the community … We’re really intentional about finding speakers either from Brunswick who have had a long history with Brunswick or who are community leaders in the area.”

The programs are funded almost completely by community support, Staples said. Many donations come from organizations like the Fourteen Black Men of Glynn, the Brunswick chapter of the Links, Inc., and historically Black fraternities and sororities.

Those wishing to donate to the program can do so online at givecampus.com/schools/CollegeofCoastalGeorgia.

“This program is part of the college’s commitment to supporting diversity in the area, and it’s been a longstanding partnership with community leaders and community partners,” Staples said. “That’s a really strong feature — we’re not doing this in isolation. We know that we can work with leaders in the community to help jump-start the success of these young Black men.”

Before wrapping up his lecture, Johnson asked the boys to return to their journals and write down why they wanted to grow into the person they’ve envisioned.

“I want you guys to get committed to growth,” he said. “I want you guys to be committed to doing whatever you’ve got to do to be the best version of whoever you were made to be.”

Republished with the permission of The Brunswick News. Originally published in The Brunswick News.