New Orleans, La. — There was a candid discussion on the plight of young African-American males at the Morial Convention Center as part of the first day of the Essence Festival.
Musical entrepreneur Master P, actor/producer Ameer Baraka and others took part in the Saving Our Sons empowerment seminar Thursday.
"To see my brother lying in that casket... I said, 'Mom, I don't want to put you through this, that's why I'm going to change my life,'" said Master P, whose real name is Percy Miller.
None of the participants held back.
"At the age of 14 years old I killed another guy because he was selling drugs in my project," said Baraka.
He and Master P have something in common. Both called the B.W. Cooper, formerly the Calliope Housing Development, home. But neither gives the city's young males an excuse for taking the wrong path in life.
"I don't blame my momma, my daddy, any mistakes I made in life, I blame me," said Master P to loud applause.
Master P told the audience that he could have blown his chance at real success. "When I rode through that project and had [Lil] Romeo sitting in that car seat with me, and what I was into, I had to realize I don't want my son to be into this, so I 'm going to have to make a change," he said.
His son Romeo, a TV actor and rapper, took the stage, as did Master P's daughter, who sings as well.
Baraka, who had a role in HBO's "Treme" series, said while incarcerated an older male changed his life with positive words. Now he is committed to raising awareness and telling it straight when it comes to some of society's ills.
"[A] black woman shouldn't be pregnant for a drug dealer, are you crazy? You're pregnant and he's a drug dealer, that's a disaster waiting to happen. Get out of that, there's no hope in a drug dealer," said Baraka.
Those in attendance appreciated the candor on problems confronting the African-American community in New Orleans and elsewhere.
"It was very empowering, it was enlightening, it was everything I thought it would be because I brought my youth group here," said Paula Cummings, who showed up with a group of young boys.
Ricky Clark of New Orleans took in every word. He said he wished the entire community could have witnessed the discussion.
"It was fulfilling and refreshing to hear some prominent people that came from the bottom to the top to focus on some issues that are real prominent to this city, because we're in trouble," said Clark.
Tulane criminologist Peter Scharf was on the front row. Afterwards he praised the discussion and said attitudinal changes in New Orleans are making inroads in driving down the murder count.
"It's happening because people are taking responsibility... They're prizing education, they're changing the distorted thinking... they're holding parents accountable," said Scharf.
The panelists said it is important for young males in particular to recognize when people in their own families are becoming a bad influence and to take a different route. "I even had to break those cycles that we had in our family… poverty, drugs and alcohol," said Master P.