Real Men, Real Heroes to honor Wichita mentors

Five years ago, Riccardo Harris was faced with every father’s worst nightmare.

His son, Robert Ridge, was killed in a drive-by shooting at the age of 19 in January 2008. Harris said those in the passing vehicle thought Ridge looked at them “the wrong way.” Four shots were fired, two striking Ridge. Ridge’s friends then drove him to the hospital where he died shortly thereafter.

Harris, a pastor and Wichita native, later decided to turn his son’s death into a message “to save other young people from experiencing or perpetuating the senseless violence that claimed his son’s life,” the Robert P. Ridge Foundation’s website says.

That message is why Harris, along with fellow Wichita mentor Linwood Sexton, will be honored with the Pride Award on Tuesday at the Real Men, Real Heroes annual recognition event.

Real Men, Real Heroes is a mentorship program geared toward providing young men, mostly without fathers in their lives, with a role model. The mentors in the program are seniors in high school and help mentor elementary and middle school students in academics and other parts of their lives.

The program also exposes the students to other influential people in Wichita, such as Harris and Sexton.

In addition to the Pride Award, the program will also recognize Bonita Gooch, publisher of the Community Voice newspaper, and author David W. Carter, whose book, “Mayday Over Wichita,” is set to be published later this year, with the Special Recognition Award.

“I think it’s important, especially for our African-American young men, to find someone they can relate to and look up to,” Harris said. “Statistics have shown that when they have someone to mentor them or show them the way, the odds of them being successful are very, very high.”

Harris published the book, “Misery to Motivation,” in October. The book is meant to serve as a motivational tool for those who have lost someone close and how to deal with that grief. It’s also a book the mentorship program uses frequently.

“It not only talks about Riccardo’s loss, but about forgiveness as well as some of the challenges some of the young African-American males face in our communities,” said Buddy Shannon, the board president for the program.

Shannon described Sexton as a “Shocker legend.” The Kansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee played football and basketball and ran track for what was then the University of Wichita in the 1940s and has remained close with the school since. The Linwood Sexton Scholarship is a full-ride scholarship that is geared toward minority students majoring in business or education.

Sexton began working with Hiland Dairy in 1953 and continues to work there today. His son, Eric Sexton, is the athletic director at Wichita State.

“Linwood (Sexton) is someone a lot of young men, regardless of race, receive mentorship from,” Shannon said.

Shannon said the Real Men, Real Heroes program tries to help the students in ways their mothers can’t and to expose them to things outside of their Wichita neighborhood. The program takes about 10 juniors at the top of their class each year to become mentors for their senior year of school.

“What stands out most to me is that I didn’t realize there were such exceptional youth in our schools,” Shannon said. “These young people aren’t your average young people.”