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TV newsman encourages mentoring by Boys II Men

ClaytMuhammad founder BoysIIMen congratulates Alfred Vidro Aurorfor his May graduatifrom AurorUniversity BoysIIMen gathering. The meeting held Prisco Community Center September

Clayton Muhammad, founder of BoysIIMen, congratulates Alfred Vidro, of Aurora for his May graduation from Aurora University at the BoysIIMen gathering. The meeting, held at the Prisco Community Center on September 16, 2012, featured a motivational speech by Alex Perez, National Correspondent for ABC News. | Michele du Vair~For Sun-Times Media

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Someone to look up to

Tina Campos has two boys active in Boys II Men Juniors, a mentoring program for boys in second through seventh grades.

“My boys sleep with the trophy they received for the Phenomenal Man Awards earlier this year,” the tearful mom said.

Campos said Vontez, 9, and Kortez, 7, look to Clayton Muhammad and the young men who have grown up through the program as role models.

“I am a single mom so they don’t have a father figure. It’s important for them to have someone in their lives they can look up to,” Campos said.

— Linda Girardi

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Updated: September 19, 2012 6:14PM

AURORA — ABC News national correspondent Alex Perez covered President Obama’s first campaign for the White House and the trial of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but there was one story he did in particular that reached home.

That was the story of the Aurora-based Boys II Men organization which he reported for NBC Chicago. The coverage brought Boys II Men national and international notice when it was picked up on social media.

Boys II Men, a youth leadership program, invited Perez to Aurora Sunday to kick off its 10th anniversary year.

“Even though we have never crossed paths, we likely do have a lot of things in common,” Perez told the group of young men gathered at the Prisco Center.

Boys II Men was founded in 2002 by Clayton Muhammad, East Aurora School District spokesman, in response to the blood shed by Aurora’s youth who were victims of gang violence at the time.

It brought together young men of different races and neighborhoods and ignited a “brotherhood” that’s growing today, Muhammad said. He said the Boys II Men model is being replicated and tailored to the needs of communities as far away as Florida and Australia.

“The bottom line is to produce a foundation for young men who want to shed stereotypes — it can cross racial, socio-economic and neighborhood lines to overcome obstacles and break barriers,” Muhammad said.

On Sunday, many of the young men who grew up through the program returned and were honored for their academic achievement and continued service locally and across the globe.

Original supporters of Boys II Men attended the meeting, including former Aurora Police Chief Bill Powell, Aurora Alderman Juany Garza and East Aurora School Board President Annette Johnson.

Perez said he grew up in a single-parent household in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, a Mexican-American neighborhood. He said his mother is Cuban and his father is Puerto Rican.

“In my neighborhood, it wasn’t common to think about success and being someone who contributes to society,” he said.

The television broadcaster said he decided to change the course of his life when three of his friends were killed in gang violence.

Perez became the first person in his family to graduate from college and was part of the team that won a Best Spot News Journalism Excellence Award from the Illinois Associated Press Broadcasters Association for coverage of the Blagojevich verdict.

He encouraged the youth to pay attention to what interests them early in their lives. For him, it was a fifth grade writing assignment for a picture of a soldier’s coffin covered with an American flag during Desert Storm in Iraq.

“I remember the teacher thought I did so well, he had me read it in front of the class,” Perez said.

“Seeing how people reacted to the information I was delivering and how my class wanted to learn more really got me hooked,” he said.

Perez said his dream came true when he worked his way up to news correspondent telling stories on a national level from his hometown in Chicago.

“You can’t always control where you are, but you can control how long you are going to keep trying,” he said.

He told the youths to make informed decisions, keep going when everyone else has stopped and not to forget who they are.

“You never know how your success is going to impact another person,” Perez said.

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