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Detroiter’s cancer battle and faith lead to literacy program for black males

Members of Detroit's Boys to Books with founder Eddie Connor, Jr.

Many inner city tenth-grade boys are focused on playing sports or being involved in other extracurricular activities. Not too long ago, while most were studying and preparing for final exams, Detroiter Eddie Connor Jr. was preparing for the fight of his life. Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma at 15, Connor watched his dream of ever leading a normal life slowly slip away.

Numerous hospital visits grew exhausting. Hair loss led to inner turmoil and shame. Classmates wrote him off completely and his own
biological father and namesake never visited him while he fought this potentially fatal disease. He remembers one classmate walking
up to him during this time saying, “I thought you were dead.”

Instead of giving up Connor decided to pray, trust and fight.

Drawing strength from his faith in God and unwavering support from his mother, Connor recalls constantly repeating a now favorite scripture to himself, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.” (Psalm 118:17) he decided then and there that if he were able to beat disease, he would find a way to help empower others … especially young, inner city males, through literacy and education.

Boys to Books after school program flyer

Now a 15-year cancer survivor, Connor is an author, speaker and high-school teacher in metro Detroit for eight years and is the founder of an after-school mentorship program. Boys 2 Books helps empower teenagers through literacy, leadership and improved life skills. According to linguist and noted reading expert, Frank Smith (Reading Without Nonsense), 60-percent of all incarcerated juveniles under the age of 18 are African-American and overwhelmingly male.

Although on the rise in recent years, Detroit graduation rates as recently as 2007 were among the worst in the nation. (National Public Radio, 2007). According to a 2010 Schott Foundation for Public Education Report, one in three black males between 20 and 34 was behind bars … lacking either a diploma or a GED.

Looking at all of the dire numbers, Connor began doing something. “I’ve always liked reading, but now I read even more,” says 15-year old Jaylond Brown, an active Boys 2 Books member. ”Mr. Connor brings in local male authors and they encourage us to read too.”

Eddie Connor and Boys to Books member, Jaylond Brown

Jaylond Brown (left) with Boys to Books founder, Eddie Connor.

Brown says reading helps expand his vocabulary, which will be helpful as he pursues his career goal of owning his own music label and clothing line. His plan is to study both when he goes to college in a couple of years. Boys 2 Books not only encourages literacy, it also helps bridge the gap from boyhood to manhood. Positive male role models provide an alternative to the streets or other not-so-positive life alternatives. Interviewing, self-expression and basics like how to tie a tie are all skills taught in this safe, supportive, pressure-free environment.

“We have to see ourselves as individuals who don’t have to rely on big business or government to bring about change but realize that we’re the ones who have to make the effort to uplift the community,” added Connor.

Endorsed by the United States Congress and the National Black Law Student Association, Boys 2 Books has expanded into the Detroit Public School system by partnering with Frederick Douglas Academy.

How can you help? Connor plans to partner with even more DPS high schools and is looking for more mentors, tutors and instructors, as well as donations and additional reading material. Connor could have given in to what many thought was a death diagnosis. He could have given up … lacking a role model or mentor in his own life.

Instead, he chose to fight, live and ultimately win. In the process, discovering ways to give back and be a father figure and role model to many young people who, as Connor describes, are the future leaders of tomorrow. Connect with Eddie Connor on his website or call (313) 469-1947 for more information about Boys 2 Books.

Guest Author Kim Brooks is a national bestselling author, speaker, songwriter and Detroiter. Visit her on the web for more information.

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