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A year ago, Markel Dinkins’ year-long stint in jail was ending and the 25-year-old Woodland Terrace father of two knew it was time for change. He just didn’t know how to make it happen.

“Everything I’d do would work for a minute and then, it would all go downhill,” Dinkins said. “But when I got a chance to really think for myself, I knew I wanted to do something better.”

Today, he has successfully completed job training and life skills programs, and is armed with a will to succeed for his family and community. But it’s far from being just a personal redemption story; Dinkins also wants to provide solutions for the challenges facing young black men.

That desire has landed him his first trip to New Orleans – and his first airplane flight—for “A Gathering of Leaders,” September 14 through 16.  There, more than 400 policy makers, researchers, advocates, and young men like Dinkins and Christopher Wiggins, who also grew up in Woodland, will discuss strategies to help young men of color.

Wiggins, 26, like Dinkins, left jail and enrolled in the Leadership, Empowerment, and Advocacy Program, run by Smart from the Start--a family support, community engagement, and school readiness program. Both men also participated in Project Empowerment, a three-week job readiness program, and they’ve gotten green jobs skills through the SMART/Office of Returning Citizens Affairs Green Jobs Certification program. Once they are fully certified, both hope to be hired full-time by the D.C. Department of General Services.

When it was time to find men to be part of the D.C. contingent in New Orleans, Kathleen Chapman, Smart from the Start’s manager of Special Projects and Strategic Relationships, said it was a no-brainer in choosing Dinkins and Wiggins to go.

“Christopher and Markel are remarkable fathers who have grown to become gifted leaders with amazing strengths and resiliencies,” she said. “Both have demonstrated outstanding personal achievement and participation in the program, despite personal struggles and challenges.  They have a vision for their community and we are truly proud to have them represent Smart from the Start in New Orleans.”

The two won’t have much time for sightseeing, said E. Bomani Johnson, senior director of programs and partnerships for DC Trust, which supports Smart from the Start and LEAP.

“They will do some information sharing and look at the broader issues facing boys and men of color,” he said.  “But this isn’t just a trip for them.  We want to look at ways to support what they bring back and what could work in their community.”

Dinkins and Wiggins are excited about the opportunity to create an environment where other young men in the Woodland Terrace community can follow their lead.

“I see myself giving the next generation a chance to be in the position I’m in – being able to do something like this, go to New Orleans and become a mentor, a role model,” said Wiggins. “But we must be the change.”

“It’s going to take time,” Dinkins said. “But we what we learn at this conference will be a start.”

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Markel Dinkins and Christopher Wiggins
Last modified: 9/4/2015 12:41:10 PM