March 9th, 2010
04:21 PM ET

Sharp minds and tough questions in Hartford

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/03/09/art.bua.anderson.hartford.jpg caption="Kyle Anderson speaks to a group of young men who are part of the Greater Hartford Male Youth Leadership Program."]

Joneil Adriano
AC360° Producer

On tonight’s AC360°, CNN Education Contributor Steve Perry introduces you to Kyle Anderson and the young men who are a part of the Greater Hartford Male Youth Leadership Program. Anderson started the program almost three years ago, with the goal of helping young African American men in Hartford, Connecticut, make it in life by exposing them to positive role models in the community.

“We have the overachiever, the underachiever, and what I call the on-the-fence achiever,” Anderson told Perry. “We're not doing anything different from the school system or what your parent is saying. But it's coming from a community group of folks.”

The program really is a shining example of what countless people around the country are doing – serving their community, mentoring young people, doing their part to make everyone else’s lives better. But Perry’s story is also about personal sacrifice – the enormous personal toll that people like Kyle Anderson and so many others are willing to pay to ensure that future generations will get their chance to succeed.

The young adults in the program gather once a month for a series of day-long workshops. Depending on the location – they may learn about careers in municipal government, for example, or banking, or even the sciences. They also get practical advice about dressing professionally and being financially responsible.

When we shot this story in February, the program participants convened at Young Studios, a local television production house in Hartford. Not surprisingly, they took part in seminars about careers in television, music, and graphic arts. And as they were doing so, they were trailed by a real CNN crew. Very meta.

All of the young men were good sports about it, so after the workshops wrapped up, CNN photojournalist Rod Griola and I decided to stick around and answer a few questions from them. It was a decision I almost came to regret – as the questions came flying fast and hard. No underachievers or on-the-fence achievers in this group.

One young man wanted to know how I got into journalism. I told him about how after college I bounced around different jobs until I finally found my calling. My mother, on the other hand, always knew I would end up a journalist, and pushed me in that direction. But I rebelled because I didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of being right. The moral of the story? Always listen to your mother – something some of the boys in the room rolled their eyes at, even as their parents heartily applauded.

The question that really got everyone’s attention, however, was one about salaries. How much do TV producers make? I stammered to answer that one, because there are so many different kinds of “producers” out there. Rod came to my rescue – pointing out that starting salaries are very low, and that people get into this industry because they love news, not because of what it pays.

At my very first job at ABC, my starting salary was $25,000 a year – which I thought at the time was pretty good. Not so for the guys in front me. They met that figure with a collective gasp. For a moment, I felt a little light-headed as the room emptied of oxygen. OK, not really. But you get the idea.

I left Hartford worried that I might have discouraged a bunch of budding Mike Wallaces and Walter Cronkites from becoming journalists themselves. If I did, it would be a shame – because there are some pretty sharp minds in that group, and if there is anything that journalism could always use more of, it’s young people who are unafraid to cut to the chase.

But even if their lives take them down different career paths, I’m confident that these young men will find success. Judging by their reaction to my answer about salaries, this is a group that has a lot of ambition and drive, unwilling to settle for less than the best. Those are qualities that will serve them well, no matter what they end up doing.

Follow Joneil Adriano on Twitter at @joneilcnn.

Filed under: Building Up America • Joneil Adriano
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