Two Detroiters and a local priest create an organization to better the lives of black men

Posted at 1:19 PM, Sep 03, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-03 13:19:49-04

For two young men who are all too familiar with the hardships of growing up in the hood, the basketball court was a place of refuge and a proving ground.

It could take your mind away from the dangers lurking in your own neighborhood.

Dongelo Moore says, "Across the street there was a house where everyone went to drink, to smoke, deal drugs and my grandmother always told me 'Don't move from this porch.'"

That lesson would not sink in completely until years later.

Dongelo Moore considers himself a statistic, growing up like many black men in Detroit.

"My father was in prison when I was 6, so my mother raised me, and my grandmother raised me," he says.

His running buddy Isaac Nzoma grew up on the same block of Plainview street on Detroit's northwest side. His parents are from Kenya. but Isaac was born here.

"I had a lot of great mentors, both of my parents with me, a lot of structure, older brothers I always looked up to," he says.

Same neighborhood, different home life, but they both had run-ins with the law. So together they decided they had to make a change.

Moore says, "I used to see men walking fat with suits and a brief case. I'd ask mama why are they walking fast. She would say he's got to do something he's got to handle his business."

Nzoma says, "I knew I had a much more powerful purpose and that's when I committed to making a difference in my neighborhood."

Both are now college graduates and Isaac graduated from law school in December. They concluded, instead of watching black men foul out on life, they would intervene and make a difference in their community.

Nzoma says, "There's a group of men out there. 'Why do I feel fearful, why do I feel like I don't want to go to this gas station', so I started challenging myself that there has to be a way for me to reach out to them."

They didn't have to reach very far. They started right down the street in their childhood neighborhood at Corpus Christi Catholic Church with Father Don Archambault.

They wanted to restart a basketball league that had failed years before.

Father Archambault says, "After about 6 months, someone started selling drugs outside. We had to shut it down. So instead, I offered them an hour of basketball, an hour of reflection and another hour of basketball."

Isaac and Dongelo thought that would be a slam dunk. So Better Men Outreach, BMO for short was born. 

On Sunday they dedicate three hours to BMO.

The first hour of b-ball sweats off all that negative energy. The second hour is all about reflection in a circle where they all talk openly.

Moore says, "All the pain, all the anger, they can speak about it because there's no where else they can speak about it."

Nzoma says, "I've never been a part of where you have a room of 40 young men who are vulnerable, open, able to share what's on their mind."

The third hour of basketball is all positive.

Moore says, "You ran out all the negative energy, only thing that's left is positive energy. Starting Monday off fresh, that's BMO."

The Better Men Outreach program has been so successful it's now at three other locations, Gesu and Saint Cecilia Catholic Churches in Detroit and Hope United Methodist Church in Southfield.

They started 7 years ago with only 8 guys in the gym, not quite enough to play a game of five on five. To date they're had thousands of men walk through the doors of BMO.

Father Archambault says, "We've had everybody from somebody getting out of jail to someone getting their masters degree, just a whole range of people."

That means countless men walk through the doors to play basketball, but end up with so much more - from counseling, resources for education, employment leads, even help with their prison records. And they also hear from guest speakers.

Nzoma says, "We've had psychiatrists, physicians, ex-drug dealers, business men, and judges come from behind the bench to sit down with us in our circle."

Without BMO a young man named Martel Jackson would be lost. He and his siblings were taken from their mom who was addicted to drugs, then his adoptive mom died right after his high school graduation. BMO has been his lifeline.

Jackson says, "BMO is actually therapy, I remember a crying moment when my best friend was murdered, and BMO was the only time I could express myself freely."

BMO also requires men who participate to do community service.

Jackson says, "We actually cleaned up a park we adopted ourselves, we got rid of abandoned cars, and bagged up the trash."

For Isaac, who is 32, and Dongelo, who is 33, BMO grew out of hard lessons they learned growing up in the city of Detroit and now hope to pass on to another generation.

Moore says, "It's a need to tell men its not okay to sit at home and smoke weed and drink all day. What's alright is for you to get up,  pick your boots up, pick your pants up, pick yourself up and better yourself and become a better man."