Hope is coming back to Brookhaven

Published 2:30 pm Monday, April 10, 2023

In 2022, Commandant Kenneth Claiborne brought The Hope Academy to Brookhaven with the goal of challenging young males to make positive choices in their lives.

Claiborne, retired after 31 years of active duty in the U.S. Army and more than 20 years with the Department of Defense, drew from his experiences in life, career and Christian ministry to found the academy in 2013 on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“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.”

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The first class of the academy in Brookhaven saw more than one dozen enroll and four graduate. Now, Hope is returning to Brookhaven with a new class and the father of one of those graduates as a leader of the program.

Brookhaven native Chase Bowman has been named dean of cadets and disciplinarian for the 2023 class.

“I was born and raised here in Brookhaven, and graduated at Loyd Star,” Bowman said. “My son is Braylon, the honor graduate last year. It really made a difference in him.”

Bowman said he has always thought about working with troubled youth, and “it just all came together” as he got to know Claiborne during the 2022 session.

“I would really like to make a change, make a difference,” Bowman said.

“I knew it when I saw him, he would be perfect,” Claiborne said. “I really had to convince him. We continued to talk about it. He is an awesome individual.”

The Academy is a 90-day military-based program of learning and hope for at-risk males in need of mentorship.

“It’s designed for those who need a place to go and don’t have any hope. They can’t see a way,” Claiborne said.

Claiborne’s motto for the academy is “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

“We want these young people to know somebody cares,” he said.

Claiborne and Bowman are recruiting 25 cadets ages 11-17 for the 2023 class, set to begin July 22 at the Train Depot in downtown Brookhaven, adjacent to the Military Museum.

“A young woman has a multitude of agencies to go for help if she needs it,” Claiborne said. “Young men have no place to go. What are we providing for our youth? Where do they go? This is the one demographic suffering more, and very few are doing anything about it. Hope Academy equips them by offering things they need to be successful in any environment.”

Bowman said he understands what it’s like to feel like there is no one for you to talk to.

“You feel like you’re alone. A lot of our youth are getting their guidance from the streets and TV, even if they have a dad or man in the home,” Bowman said. “They’re not shown how a man is supposed to conduct himself. They clam they don’t see any other way.”

“Brookhaven has in its hands the most comprehensive behavior modification program in the nation,” Claiborne said. “That’s the tool that’s available.”

Bowman believes people need to step up and that The Hope Academy is the best option for issues with teens and pre-teens avoiding a life of trouble. People interested in the program can contact Claiborne at 601-569-3119.

“If you’re not buying into this, what other option is there? At least we’re trying to do something. Just talking doesn’t do it,” he said. “This is a ministry as far as I’m concerned.”