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May 14, 2013

Breaking the mold

Blinn’s Distinguished Gentlemen shape students for life with training, integrity

The mission of Blinn College’s Distinguished Gentlemen seems simple at first glance – to teach young men the values and civic responsibility that will help them reach their educational and career goals.

But under the guidance of Lockett Hall Coordinator Marcus Young and Wheeler Hall Assistant Manager Ernest Brown, the Distinguished Gentlemen hold workshops instructing students in everything from job interview tips to escaping from a car that’s plunged under water.

“I don’t know of any other student organization that’s going to teach you table manners and which fork is the salad fork,” said Christopher Butler-Day, a sophomore from Houston.

While the topics seem eclectic, they’re all designed to build students’ confidence and broaden their horizons.

“I wanted to teach them things they don’t learn inside the classroom,” Young said.

When students first began meeting last year, they never intended to become a student organization. Former Wheeler Hall Building Manager Claude Huddleston, now the assistant director of residence life at Lamar University, inadvertently initiated the organization when he began hosting weekly meetings for young men who broke the residence hall’s policies.

At these weekly meetings, Huddleston offered the young men advice and allowed them to speak about the challenges they faced. Amazingly, young men who hadn’t broken hall policy began attending the meetings, seeking the fellowship and guidance the group provided.

“The young men actually enjoyed the meetings and the topics, and even when they weren’t required to come back they continued to attend,” Young said.

This year, the students opted to make the informal gatherings an official student organization and crafted the name “Distinguished Gentlemen.”

The organization now includes 17 members. In addition to weekly meetings, the group performs community service, takes college tours, learns about the arts through trips to plays and museums and even mentors children at the Mission Brenham Leadership Academy.

“As a male African American student, you have a certain image on campus that’s already set for you, and we’re breaking that mold,” said Joshua Carrierre, president. “People look forward to our activities because they’re fun, it’s useful information and it’s something nobody has done here before.”

Applicants must have at least a 2.0 grade point average to apply, then complete an interview with the organization’s student officers. Once they earn membership, students must spend at least five hours in study hall each week, attend regular meetings and perform community service.

Young said students now stop by his office regularly for information about joining.
“When I got here, I didn’t think I would get involved in a student organization,” said Butler-Day. “I just wanted to come in, take my classes and get out, but then I met Mr. Young, Mr. Brown and the Gentlemen and we developed a bond.”

Even more than the workshops and lessons, that fellowship may be the most valuable benefit Distinguished Gentlemen offers its members. Butler-Day said Carrierre recently helped him with his math homework until 2 a.m.

“I’ve never gotten this much respect in my whole life,” Butler-Day said. “If I need anything, people will look out for me here. We don’t have to want for anything because we have friends who want to take care of us.”

Rudy Sutherland, sergeant-at-arms, wants to major in petroleum engineering after he earns his associate’s degree. He said Distinguished Gentlemen has taught him maturity and responsibility.

“I enjoy the brotherhood,” Sutherland said. “We have a lot of fun being around each other and learning how to be men.”