United Black Men

Members of United Black Men of Charleston County gathered Thursday at a press conference in North Charleston. (Prentiss Findlay/staff)

Progress connecting with young African-American males in the Dorchester-Waylyn neighborhood shows that the United Black Men of Charleston County and the community can make a difference in their lives, UBMCC members said Thursday.

Since its formation last April, UBMCC members walked the neighborhood streets and held community meetings. They gave out their cellphone numbers to encourage young men to call for mentoring rather than turning to gun violence.

"The community response was great," said member DeAndre Muhammad.

But much work remains because problems affecting young, disadvantaged black males are systemic, UBMCC members said.

"We must provide them with an opportunity to talk," Muhammad said. "Let them know we are their friends and mentors."

The organization held a press conference Thursday in North Charleston to call for better education and jobs that would help break the cycle of incarceration that springs from gang-related violence. Parents, churches, businesses, schools and government must unite in the effort, members said.

Young African-American men do not feel a part of area economic growth, member Tory Fields said, adding, "The mother of crime is poverty."

Gun violence is the No. 1 cause of death for young black men, the group said.

Among the UBMCC's suggestions were community group homes as an alternative to jail. Members said their success in Dorchester-Waylyn also is a model for what can be done in other neighborhoods.

Charleston County Council members Teddie Pryor and Henry Darby stood with a group of about a dozen UBMCC members at the press conference but did not speak.

Last April, Darby and Pryor  announced an effort to reach young black men who otherwise could be bound for prison. At that time, both council members and activists gave their personal cellphone numbers at a news conference.

On Thursday, the organization reviewed its progress and issued a call for continued action.

"We just wanted to let the community know that we are here to help," UBMCC member Kevin Williams said.