Becoming a Real Man: Building Relationships One Chapter at a Time

United Way fights for the education, health and financial stability of every person in Lucas, Wood and Ottawa counties.



Real Men READ-y pairs African American male professionals with African American boys in grades k-1, to improve literacy and build relationships.

Since 2015, 1,403 reading sessions have taken place between reading MENtors and mentees.

80% of teachers agree the MENtors make significant differences in the lives of mentees.

Through the generous support of African American Leadership Council of United Way and donor designations, $20,000 has been invested in Real Men READ-y program funding over the last three years.

“Dominic, are you paying attention?” asked Mrs. Janice in a serious voice.

To be honest, I wasn’t paying attention. I was talking to Daniel about the new toy car my cousin gave me yesterday. That’s more exciting than reading a story. I don’t really like reading stories.

“Sit down Dominic. Please pay attention,” Mrs. Janice continued with an annoyed look.

I’m used to hearing this. I get the “wiggles” real easy. It’s not my fault though, I’m just not very good at reading. Plus, after a full day of painting, playing, snacking and napping, it’s hard to think about reading.

I’m only six years old, what does she expect from me?

On the way home from school, Momma told me she got a call from Mrs. Janice again. I tried telling her it wasn’t my fault, but she said “she wasn’t buying it”… which confused me because I wasn’t trying to sell her anything…

“You need to start paying attention in class or else you’re going to be in big trouble.” She said looking at me through the rearview mirror.

The next morning, before I left for school, my mom gave me another stern warning about paying attention in class. I was determined to try—I really hoped Mrs. Janice wouldn’t yell at me again.

“Dominic,” called Mrs. Janice right after the morning bell buzzed.

“Yes?” I said confused. I didn’t think I had done anything wrong. Was I getting in trouble again?

“Please head over to the library. Today you get to meet with Mr. Michael,” she informed.

I had no idea who Mr. Michael was or why I was meeting him, but I smiled and started for the classroom door. I got to get out of class, so I wasn’t going to ask any questions!

Walking into the library, I saw a man in a suit and a blue, striped tie. He looked very nice and started to walk my way.

“Hello, are you Dominic?” he asked kindly.

“Yes, sir,” I replied. “Are you Mr. Michael?”

“I am!” He responded in a friendly voice.

“Ready to read our first book together?” Mr. Michael said as he gestured for me to sit down next to him.

I didn’t want Mr. Michael to know I wasn’t a good reader, but I also didn’t want to let him down. He came all this way in that fancy suit. I hesitantly said okay and sat down beside him.

Mr. Michael pulled a book from his bag about the alphabet. I’m pretty good with the alphabet, so this shouldn’t be too hard I thought. He opened the book and I started reading…

“A is for Apple, All…Alli…”

“Sound it out,” he encouraged.

“Al-ee-gay-torr, oh, alligator!” I exclaimed.

“Yes, great work, Dominic!” Mr. Michael said as he stuck his hand up for a high-five.

Mr. Michael was patient with me as I read, and he didn’t seem to mind when I messed up on the words.

“I had never seen the word alligator before, I had only heard it on TV.” I explained to him with a triumphant smile.

“Well the more books you read, the more words you will learn!” He stated, with a hint of excitement.

Before I knew it, our reading session was over. We only made it to “Q for Quack,” but I had a great time with Mr. Michael.

A few months passed, and I began to see that Mr. Michael had been right! The more I read, the more I knew. Words got easier for me and reading was getting fun! Mr. Michael, Momma and Mrs. Janice were all very happy with my “progress.” Progress… that is a word I learned in one of the books I read with Mr. Michael!

With the final weeks of school coming, I knew that my weekly meetings with Mr. Michael were about to be over. It made me sad to think about, but I wanted our last meeting together to be the best one yet. I needed to prepare…

“MOM! MOM! MOM! WE NEED TO GO TO THE LIBRARY!” I yelled, when I got home from school that day. “I need to prepare for my final reading session with Mr. Michael! Oh, and I think I need a suit.”


The next week, after a trip to the library, I put on my best sweater vest and bowtie. At school, as soon as Mrs. Janice excused me to go to the library, I sprinted to see Mr. Michael. I wanted as much time as possible with him.

“Woah, speed racer,” Mr. Michael said when he saw me come into the room panting. “What is the rush?” Then he paused, “Well, would you look at you. Dominic, you look very handsome today.”

I proudly puffed out my chest and straightened my bowtie.

“Mr. Michael,” I started, “You can call me Dom. I only let my friends call me Dom, but I think you’re pretty cool, so you can call me Dom, too.”

“Well, Dom,” he said with a smile, “You are on your way to becoming quite an extraordinary man. Now, what do you say we go read another book?”


Change Maker Action: Thanks to our African American Leadership Council Affinity Group, young, at-risk African American boys are able to improve literacy through mentorship programs, such as Real Men READ-y.