Montgomery—the old Dexter Avenue Methodist church is catching early sun. The red bricks look orange, the Alabama state flag is golden-colored.
There is big history here on Dexter. Across the street is where Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. preached Sunday services. The capitol building is up the road a piece.
It’s a busy morning downtown. Taxis. Public busses. Range Rovers. Old pickups with muddy tires. Homeless men sleep on benches. Welcome to Alabama.
I’m at Valiant Cross Academy—an all-male private school in the heart of the city. I’m outside, watching ninety African American boys in uniforms shout the Lord’s Prayer in unison.
These boys have a string of rally cries they chant to start their day.
They shout things like:
“GOD LOVES YOU! AND SO DO I!”
“WHO’S GOT YO BACK?”
“I GOT YO BACK, I GOT YO BACK! OOOOOH, I GOT YO BACK!”
“GREAT DAY! GREAT DAY!”
“LET’S FINISH STRONG!”
“OUR FATHER, WHICH ART IN HEAVEN…”
Then, ninety boys from varied backgrounds—most from rough neighborhoods—face the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.
If that doesn’t bring tears to your eyes you’re not living right.
These children come from a world with bars on their living-room windows, daddies in county prison, and drug deals on public playgrounds. They are at the academy to make better futures.
Some enrollees tell staff members they don’t expect to live past age eighteen.
“We call them scholars instead of students,” says school founder, Anthony Brock. “Because we’re training scholars, decent men, and fathers. Not students.”
Anthony and his brother founded Valiant Cross three years ago. They started the school because they’ve seen enough kids slip through the cracks of a crumbling Montgomery County public-school system.
They decided to do something about it.
So, armed with little more than a few dimes and a prayer, Anthony started transforming forgotten Alabama kids into kings.
“Our morning shoutin’ helps take the boys’ minds off problems at home,” says one staff member.
Rituals include prayers, pledges, clapping, hand-shaking, and lots of hollering. Mostly, military-style yells of encouragement.
“Our teachers here are almost all men,” says another teacher. “That was on purpose. Lotta these boys need to see strong male role models, we’re showing that to them on a daily basis.”
The teachers here are more than role models. They are sturdy men who have become brothers, parents, and protectors. They understand broken homes, and they love their boys.
After rally cries, the kids walk single-file through a receiving line, shaking hands with faculty and administrators.
Today, I am in this receiving line.
I get ninety firm handshakes from boys with serious faces. Each young man looks me in the eyes.
Some of these boys have seen more hell in their childhoods than grown men see in ten lifetimes. They know more about life than I’ll ever know.
A small kid with large eyes and thick eyeglasses shakes my hand.
“You have a great day, sir,” the boy says.
I wish him the same.
Anthony says, “I love my kids, I want everyone to know that THESE boys aren’t just a statistic, they’re beautiful, they’re going places, and they’re created in the image of God.”
I knew something seemed familiar about this place.