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Woodford Times - Peoria, IL
  • Local man strives to empower people through workshops, programs

  • Stop Tripping and Start Living. This is something James “Agbara” Bryson says to people through his workshops.

    Bryson, 62, of Germantown Hills, operates New Millennium Institute, which according to the Facebook page, “teaches people and organizations life and soft-skills that help maximize potential and healthy lifestyles.”
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  • Editor’s note: There is some strong language (racial slur) in the following story, but it is necessary to make a point from the perspective of the person being interviewed.
     
    Stop Tripping and Start Living. This is something James “Agbara” Bryson says to people through his workshops.
    Bryson, 62, of Germantown Hills, operates New Millennium Institute, which according to the Facebook page, “teaches people and organizations life and soft-skills that help maximize potential and healthy lifestyles.”
    “I’ve been doing this probably about eight years. I’m a trainer. I travel the country doing workshops and provide training for teachers, workforce development,” Bryson said.
    In the past, Bryson, who has a master’s degree in social psychology, worked as a community mental health specialist. He also worked for the city of Peoria in workforce development for 17 years and did another program at Illinois Central College for 15 years. 
    “I founded an African American male program called Harvesting Dreams. It’s a retention program,” he said. “Our 
    students are coming in, and it’s not just ICC, but it’s all over, students are coming into colleges academically unprepared, as well as socially and emotionally unprepared. What my program did was help individuals engage instructors, show up for class on time.”
    Many of the young men Bryson mentored came from extreme backgrounds, such as criminal involvement and broken homes, so the transition from the streets to college was a big one, Bryson said.
    “We talked about how the male image is destroyed, what African American males are going through socially and emotionally. We talk about slavery. We talk about the new masculinity. At my program you have to pull your pants up,” Bryson said. “We talk about the thug mentality versus the nerd. We try to get all of our guys to be nerds.”
    The thug lifestyle, Bryson said, is not an easy way out.
    “You ask them young guys how many successful drug dealers you’ve seen or where their buddies are at. Just like me, all my friends I grew up with are either locked up, strung out or they’re dead,” he said. “It’s easier to go to school and get a job than selling drugs.”
    Anywhere from 25 to 40 men showed up for the program on their own during lunch. Bryson said that number is unheard of because “most want to run out and catch the bus.”
    Page 2 of 4 - Bryson said the program still meets at ICC from noon-1 p.m. every Wednesday but he is no longer heavily involved.
    “We had police officers that would come, we had pastors that would come. We had faculty that would come. The program was open to whoever wanted to come. The idea was to connect these people to the community as well as to the college,” Bryson said.
    For these efforts, Bryson received a proclamation signed Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis. 
    “Our program had the highest retention rate of African American males,” Bryson said. “We focus on African American males because of their high rate of dropout.” 
    In meeting with students, Bryson said he witnessed such bad behaviors that he wrote a book in 2011 called “Stop Tripping: Empowering African American Males to Succeed.” 
    In his book, Bryson said he focuses on life skills and self handicapping behavior. 
    “Self handicapping behavior is when people sabotage themselves unconsciously,” Bryson said. “Self handicapping behaviors result into drug addiction, homicides, incarcerations, public aid, not taking responsibility for your life because you’re kind of on a hamster wheel just spinning and not going anywhere.”
    Bryson gave an example of self handicapping behavior.
    One day when Bryson was walking through the ICC cafeteria, he heard someone saying, ‘Hey nigger!’ He looked around and saw that it was one of his students addressing him. He was shocked. Bryson said he views the word “nigger” as derogatory.
    “We’re dealing with the word ‘nigga’ constantly in the classroom and hallways. Actually, that’s what prompted me to write the book. Every time you call someone ‘nigga,’ you’re saying they’re worthless. That word had evolved into a totally new meaning that I was totally unaware of because this is what I went through,” Bryson said pointing to pictures of racial inequality in his book. 
    “I went to school in the ’60s when bussing was taking place. I went to Woodruff High School, and when I was going to school we had to have police escorts,” he said. “We were faced with a lot of racism from the students because that was a transition, as well as the teachers.”
    Even Bryson’s high school counselor told him to drop out of school, he said.
    Page 3 of 4 - Bryson grew up in the Taft Homes on the south side of Peoria.
    “At that time, it wasn’t uncommon for cars that were passing to throw rocks and bottles, which was crazy,” Bryson said. “I grew up with police coming to the Taft homes with dogs and police firing tracer bullets that would go through a whole section of the projects. That environment was transferred from the streets into the schools. I didn’t have a good learning environment at the time.”
    However, what he did have were positive role models. He said he was influenced by God, his uncles and his successful ancestors. He said his aunt Annie Malone of Peoria was the first African American millionaire in the area with her hair products company, and his uncle was the first African American detective in Milwaukee. In the future, Bryson said he plans to write a book about his aunt.
    Another book that Bryson penned this year teaches people how to overcome setbacks from traumatic events. The book is called “Stop Tripping and Start Living: Promoting a Healthy Lifestyle!”
    “My wife, her father was murdered, and it created a domino effect for the family. My mother, I had to retire to take care of her. She had autism, and becoming emotionally and physically drained as a caretaker is a setback,” Bryson said.
    Now, Bryson, who is retired, is conducting public meetings part time through New Millennium Institute. He is also currently developing a life skills academy. 
    Bryson said it is never too late for people to make a positive change as he has witnessed someone as old as 85 at his program. 
    Many of Bryson’s students keep in touch with him and he has seen many positive results. 
    “I have walking testimonies,” he said. 
    Bryson showed a text on his phone from a former student that said, “Hey Mr. Bryson, ... I now have the (credits) and requirements needed for my first ever associate’s degree. If you hadn’t been there at the right time I would have dropped from school before I got there. You saved me.”
    Some of the upcoming conferences Bryson will conduct are a self efficiency empowerment conference (job fair) at Carver Center in Peoria from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sept. 11 and a “Stop Tripping & Start Living Men’s Conference” at the Gateway Building in Peoria 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Nov. 15.
    Page 4 of 4 - For more information, call 208-8778 or visit www.jbnewmil.com.

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