The Save Our Sons program is being piloted at the PAL Center and Charter Academy in San Bernardino and is open to youth in grades 9 through 12.
The Save Our Sons program is being piloted at the PAL Center and Charter Academy in San Bernardino and is open to youth in grades 9 through 12. Credit: bhjustice.org

Last Updated on December 24, 2022 by BVN

Prince James Story |

A group of men are doing their best to leave an everlasting impact on Black and Brown high schoolers in San Bernardino County.  

The Save Our Sons program is being piloted at the PAL Center and Charter Academy in San Bernardino County. 

“I have four sons, and as a father raising them here in San Bernardino, we fall right up under Oakland and some other places [for murders],” said Dr. Dwaine Radden, the Sr. Executive Director/CEO of PAL Center and Charter Academy. 

Homicides are up 17% according to the San Bernardino County Community Indicators Report.

Dr Radden told BVN he asked himself, “How can I keep them alive? How can I save my sons?”

That’s where the idea for the program came from. 

The goal of the organization is to launch this program in cities nationwide.

Keith Burkes (left), who oversees academic support and life skills, Dr. Dwaine Radden Sr.(center), Executive Director/CEO and Geddes Mohammed (right), and the PAL Center’s Special Projects Director. (Prince James Story, Black Voice News).

Currently, there are 30-35 students from 9th to 12th grade participating in the program in San Bernardino. They meet once every two weeks. Each session is 45 minutes long.  

Focus on critical thinking and conflict resolution

According to Keith Burkes, who oversees academic support and life skills for PAL Center and Charter Academy, the program’s primary focus is critical thinking and conflict resolution.

“As a young man, young person, there are always decisions you have to make. There are always decisions that are going to be made for you. Where do you fall in place of ownership and responsibility,” Burkes asks? He explains how he challenges the participants as to whether what comes out of their mouths match their actions. He tells them they can  start being responsible for how they think and what they you do,

The young men are taught the “Three D’s” – Discipline, Dedication, and Determination. According to Radden, the “Three D’s” are modeled after his sons. One was disciplined, one was determined, and the other was dedicated. 

“There is not enough of us men of color in front of our young boys and young men showing them what a young man should be like,” he said. The organization’s goal is to put a role model right in front of the young men and show them how to achieve their goals. 

Stop the cycle from schoolhouse to courthouse to jailhouse

Radden said that unfortunately, in San Bernardino, it is a scary proposition for these young men because “they are either six feet under or six feet in [a jail cell].” 

The San Bernardino County Community Indicators Report notes that of the total juvenile arrests in the County in 2020, 32.9 percent were African-American and 52 per cent were Latino.

In addition, NeighborhoodScout.com reflects 94 percent of communities in California have a lower crime rate than San Bernardino County.  

“This program is not exclusively for Black and Brown [kids], but those are the ones that need to be saved [from the system] they have for them to live in,” explained Radden. “They go from the schoolhouse to the courthouse to the jailhouse.”

PAL leaders meet with the students every two weeks to go over lessons and teach them life skills like creating resumes and interviewing for jobs.

Xavier Reyes(Left) and Ja’kim Boykins (Right) are two eleventh graders at PAL Charter Academy and part of the Save Our Sons program inaugural group. (Prince James Story, Black Voice News).

Xavier Reyes’ story

Reyes grew up in south central LA before his parents moved to San Bernardino to provide a better life for him and his siblings. 

He said what he has learned most from this program is how to carry himself outside of the classroom as a young man, and in society, and to keep his distance from negative influences. 

Reyes wants to be a cardiovascular surgeon one day, “It’s something that I’ve wanted since I was little because I’ve seen my mom as a nurse. She’s taken me to her job before to see what she does. And ever since then, I was like, I want to be in the medical field at some point in my life.”

Ja’kim Boykins’ story

Boykins’ life journey with his family has been more tumultuous than Reyes’, having gone through the foster care system. One thing that motivates him is to make sure his little brother is well off. 

Boykins mentioned he would like to attend college, but first he wanted to find a job after graduating to save up enough money to pay for school.

“I like art, so I want to be a tattoo artist, and I want to cut hair.  I want to do stuff to make other people happy.”

One of the lessons that have stuck with Boykins these last few weeks is the importance of how you present yourself and that you write your own story. “Don’t let anyone else shape what type of man you will be,” he noted.

“Don’t use the sadness that happened in your life to hold you back. You know what I’m saying,” Boykins said. “You got to be the one not to crave pity. You don’t need sympathy. All you need to do is get it done and push forward to be better than everybody else.”

Looking to the future

As the program continues to grow, they will be looking to expand to other cities in California and, eventually, other states across the country. 

“Life is not easy for any of us, (the) struggle is tough. So, as men, we have to show them [youth] how to get through it, how to navigate, and how to de-escalate. And that’s what the program is about, just trying to take a holistic approach and take these young men to that next level,” Radden said. 

Follow this link to learn more about the PAL Center and Save Our Sons Program.

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Prince James Story

Report for America Corps member and Black Voice News Climate and Environmental Justice reporter, Prince James Story was raised in Atlanta, Georgia. He is an intersectional journalist with experience covering news and sports across numerous mediums. Story aims to inform the public of social inequities and discriminatory practices while amplifying the voices of those in the communities harmed. Story earned his master’s degree in Sports Journalism from Arizona State University-Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He earned a B.A. in Mass Communication and a B.A. in African American studies from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Contact Prince James with tips, comments, or concerns at Princejames@blackvoicenews.com or via Twitter @PrinceJStory.