ST. PAUL (AP) -- Henry Crosby eyed the crowd in front of him. Slouched on sofas up front were 16 young black men, some sporting Tommy Hilfiger jerseys and football jackets. Seated around the tables behind were as many middle-aged black men, a few with gray hairs.

"We're already segregated, man," Crosby said in mock exasperation, slapping his knee. "And we've fought for years to get away from segregation. If you're mentor is here, I want you to get with your mentor."

It was the start of the weekend retreat for the young men in Rites of Passage, a program for black high school seniors affiliated with the Minneapolis chapter of Jack and Jill. In Crosby's words, the goal is to "help bridge the transition from adolescence to manhood."

The young men meet twice a month for a crash course in the life skills they will need to make it on their own. They learn how to apply for college scholarships, how to conduct themselves in an interview and how to act when a police officer pulls them over for no apparent reason. At the heart of the program are the relationships that develop between the 17- and 18-year-old initiates and their mentors, businessmen, attorneys and educators.

"It's great," said Saan Clemons, a senior at North High School in Minneapolis. "You get to be surrounded by all these men who are successful. They broke through the stereotypes about black men, so we can, too."

The program was started three years ago by parents in Jack and Jill, a national organization begun by African-American mothers for their children.

At the end of the six-month program, in March, the teens will be presented as men to their parents and peers in a ceremony drawing heavily on African ritual.

"We wanted to do something to help young African-American men do the right thing," said founding member Linda Keene, whose husband, Robert, is a mentor. "We knew there were a lot of young men who were doing positive things and we wanted to support them. We also wanted to show them that not just their parents, but the community as a whole, cared what happened to them."

At the retreat, the men went around the room and introduced themselves. Nearly all the teen-agers attend top schools -- Breck, De La Salle, Wayzata, Hopkins. A few are athletes; all aspire to college. One young man wants to attend Boston University and study communications. Another is thinking of studying business at Xavier University.

Each time someone mentioned the historically black Morehouse College, Crosby lifted his sweater to reveal a maroon T-shirt emblazoned with "Morehouse Dad." His son, a Rites of Passage graduate, is a student there.

"We're not a recruiting arm for Morehouse," Anthony Brown, a federal prosecutor who is the program's other co-chairman, said, laughing. But Brown is a recruiter of sorts -- for college in general.

"I fully intend to have everyone in this room have one complete application package before the Christmas holiday," he told the young men. "I will even get you the application."

The strength of the program derives from the mentor's expertise and willingness to share. Mentor Durell Hope, head of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Minnesota, gave a talk on the dangers of drugs. David Taylor, dean of the General College at the University of Minnesota, offered to have breakfast with any student interested in attending the U. A doctor discussed sexually transmitted diseases. Others talked about relationships with women.

But most of the advice is not formal. It comes in the give-and-take of conversation and the wisdom passed on from the elders to the next generation. Crosby, who is a regional sales manager for an information management company, says he got such advice once from his best friend's father.

"It was a turning point in my life," he recalled. "It was after that day that I decided I wanted to move out of my situation. He advised me to follow my dream. My dream was to go to college and be the first person to earn a degree in my family."

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