Conference on Saturday to bring men and boys together

Men and boys plan to meet at the Boys and Girls Club this weekend.

David Gilkey will urge them to “reconcile.”

He plans to make them uncomfortable first.

Gilkey said he brought in 250 people, 170 of them boys, for last year’s D.E.M.O. Conference. He hopes to exceed those numbers with this year’s event, which stands for Developing Every Man’s Opportunity.

He’ll tell them some men failed boys in this town. That fathers have failed sons, by deserting families, by going to jail, by defining manhood as joining gangs rather than getting a job, staying home and tying shoes onto small feet. He’ll tell them how young men fool themselves and go wrong. “The new rites of passage are prisons and gangs,” he said.

Then he’s going to ask boys to stand up. He’s going to ask: “If there is one thing you would say to your father, what would it be?”

He’s already asked that, one at a time, of hundreds of young boys and men, some of them fond of wearing gang colors. Their answers have ranged from “I hate my father” to “I love my father.” And many of them have said their fathers disappeared from their lives long ago.

“A lot of the misery in our community comes from one simple truth,” Gilkey said. “No father, no role model.”

Some people might resent anyone saying these things, he said. But he wishes they worried more about the many “lost boys,” as he calls them – the white or Hispanic or African-American youngsters who seem headed for trouble for lack of good role models and mentors in their lives. He’s said in the past that if people want to feel especially uncomfortable, they should seek out and console some of the families of child victims of gang violence in Wichita. He’s done that. It feels uncomfortable, he said.

He’s used to feeling uncomfortable himself. He was a Wichita crack addict for 16 years. He spent time in prison. His last arrest years ago took place in front of his small children.

After his release, wanting to be a good father himself, Gilkey began meeting with young people, “speaking truth,” as he calls it, about drugs, gangs, crime, disrespecting women and other sins. At first he did this for nothing, but after Wichita school officials began to believe he was a force for good, he got invited to schools to meet with students thought to be in gangs or headed in that direction.

He’s done pro-family and anti-gang work regularly for more than eight years now, with a group with a whimsical title, DYWTLOD: “Do You Want to Live or Die.” He and his wife, Lynn, who runs similar programs for girls and young women, get funding now from schools, the United Way of the Plains and private donors. He and Lynn received a humanitarian award from Interfaith Ministries two years ago.

This will be the fifth year Gilkey has run a conference at the Boys and Girls Club of South Central Kansas.