Hope Academy has room for more in first Brookhaven class

Published 3:00 pm Friday, January 7, 2022

An academy that aims to give youth a new trajectory for life will soon kick off its first class in Brookhaven — and spots are open.

The Hope Academy wants to bring challenge and hope to young males to change their lives in positive ways by giving them real alternatives for their lives. With eight young men already enrolled, founder and director Commandant Kenneth Claiborne says 12 seats are available for ages 12-17.

Claiborne is a Mississippi native with 31 years of active duty experience in the U.S. Army and more than two decades with the Department of Defense. Claiborne founded the academy in 2013 after retiring, and began his first class in Biloxi in January 2014 with 25 cadets. Twenty-three graduated the program.

Claiborne drew from his own life experience to build a program that instills respect along with knowledge, and lets cadets know someone is there to stand in the gap for them — people who care about them and their futures.

“We build a community coalition with police chiefs, officers, courts, mothers, community leaders, etc.,” Claiborne said. “It’s such a great thing to see, when the graduates see the community’s involvement in their lives.”

The program begins Jan. 22 at 1 p.m. in the Old Railroad Depot on South Whitworth Avenue. The room on the north end of the building will serve as the academy’s classroom and meeting place.

Parents of the cadets and anyone else who would like to observe are invited to attend the opening session that Saturday.

Claiborne said Brookhaven’s leaders have been very supportive of the program, including Mayor Joe Cox, City Clerk Samantha Melancon and the aldermen, as well as Police Chief Kenneth Collins and local judges.

Hope Academy’s 90-day program will be on two schedules, where everything is tracked. There will be 36 modules of instruction and four major activities, including ceremonies, physical training, reviews, intense classroom instruction including leadership and financial stewardship modules.

“They will learn etiquette, but most of all respect and accountability,” said Bobby Govan, the academy’s dean of students and senior instructor.

Govan retired in 2021 after 38 years in the Army, and was heavily recruited by Claiborne to come on board as his instructional leader. He couldn’t say no, the native Mississippian said, and is relocating to Brookhaven.

The academy is not focused on one race or color of people, the instructors said, and will be available for young females, as well, when instructors are available. The program works where people get involved to encourage the students, Claiborne said, and will come alongside them to let them know the community is invested in them and their lives. “There is a young man tonight with nowhere to go. If we won’t do something, what happens to him? He’s waiting on us now — what are we going to do?” Claiborne said. “That’s a bad feeling when you’ve got nowhere to go. I like to talk, but we have to do more — let’s execute, because they’re waiting on us. We can’t fail.”

Anyone who is interested in the program — to get a young person involved, to offer support, to make a donation or to ask questions — can call Claiborne at 601-569-3119. Also a pastor of Christ Temple Ministries in Gulfport, Claiborne said callers should leave a voicemail directed to The Hope Academy and he will follow up as quickly as possible.

“This is not Hope Academy’s class — this is Brookhaven’s class,’” Claiborne said.

“The hope of The Hope Academy is for young men to go back into their communities and it have a snowball effect — the change is in the person, and his friends see the change and want it,” Govan said.