Mecklenburg Extension Community Spotlight: Reggie Singleton, The Males Place

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By Lucy Sams, Writer, Extension Master Food Volunteer
Reading time: 5 min 4 sec

Man looking at cameraA focus on community and civic involvement is one of the many contributions of The Males Place. Since its establishment in 1993, The Males Place mentoring and life skills program has positively impacted the lives of over 3000 young men. The Males Place farming and gardening program is one of the many programs offered that provides a holistic experience for the youth involved. From the first seed to the first sale, mentors engage the youth participants in a process that has far-reaching impacts on our local community while demonstrating real-life practicality and skills the youth can use for an entire lifetime. Speaking with Mr. Reggie Singleton, founder of The Males Place about the program was insightful and inspiring.

Q:  Hello. Thank you for joining me. Can you please tell me about your organization, The Males Place?

A:  Good morning. I’m honored to speak with you. The Males Place is a multi-dimensional training organization for young black men 12 to 18 years of age. We use three tenets, three major areas of focus; they include Manhood training, Agriculture, and Social Justice to inculcate values, lessons, teaching, and strategies for young men in the Charlotte community.

Q:  What is your current title and background?

A:  I am the Founder and Executive Director of The Males Place. I grew up in the Gullah/Geechee regions of South Carolina. I’m a graduate of the University of South Carolina with a degree in Public Health. I’ve been married for 31 years, and we have three children. I’ve lived in the Matthews area since 1992.

Q:  Please tell me more about your agricultural program?

A:  The agricultural program started in 2009. We wanted to do more than merely have rap sessions with the young men. We knew we needed them to have a connection. I grew up doing agricultural food system work as early as the age of 5. Even though those times were quite difficult due to the weather, snakes, and low wages, I felt that seasonal farming, agriculture, and a community garden were a way to connect and engage our young men. Teach them why production was important. Why producing was important and all aspects of the food system program. Production, processing, distribution, and retail sales allowed our youth to engage in the local economy. We realized that engaging our young people in this way, fed our people. Profiting from feeding the community clean, local, healthy food was essential. The organization sought out to be a change agent through engaging young black men who are often misrepresented. We wanted to create a new reality and narrative for our young black men.

Q:  That’s wonderful. How does this segment of your organization interact with the local food system here in Mecklenburg County?

A:  In 2009, we started our food system work with a garden off of Beatties Ford Road, in Fred Alexander Park. It was 100’ x 50’. We are currently expanding that area in order to expand our production. We have been growing local clean food with a variety of growing practices. We distribute through a variety of sites; The Rosa Parks Farmers Market, as well as at our gardening site. We have focused on the seniors in our community, as well as low-income residents who don’t have access readily available.

Q: What are your current crops? What are the growing practices you have implemented?

A: Great question. We grow seasonal crops in the Spring and Summer; peppers, okra, squash, zucchini, and herbs. We are about to install our Fall garden on Labor Day weekend. We will install a variety of kale, collards, green leafy vegetables, and produce. With the expansion of our garden, we will include 20 more raised beds. Bill Sloane from the Cooperative Extension taught our youth how to build the 4’ x 10’ beds to increase our production. 

Q:  How many participants do you currently have? Has COVID affected your participation?

A: Yes, we have been impacted. We tried to use virtual. Our children need to be engaged. We meet virtually on Wednesdays. We meet in person at the garden. At any meetings conducted in a building we follow COVID protocol for participants. We have not shut down. We don’t have the luxury of shutting down. We have modified some of our plans. A trip to Egypt to learn Kemetic growing practices and nutrition has been postponed. Our annual collard green sale, fruit sale, and Blessing With The Harvest events will still be taking place.

Q:  Is participation in your program open to the public? 

A:  We currently have 17 young men, 12 to 18 years of age. The youth participate in the program until graduation. We meet three times a week.; on Tuesdays from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. you can find our Youth Vendors at the Rosa Parks Farmers Market, Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. is gardening work; and Wednesdays are Manhood training from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Q:  In your opinion, what is an issue that is affecting our local food system right now? The number one issue?

A: Well there are a number of barriers, it’s not just one. I would say the pernicious role that white supremacy plays affects our ability to get quality land and equitable resources. Despite our efforts since 2009, we have not been able to access or to purchase; you know it’s about ownership. I see other farmers with a big property and they have the mechanization, the big combines, and they’re able to produce larger quantities. Another issue is that many don’t see agriculture as a dignified honorable type of work. They see it as dirty. So our historical role in agriculture isn’t being honored in the present day. The impact of lost land can still be seen today. Education is another area that affects us.

Q:  What inspires you about our current food system?

A:  What I find to be very refreshing is the greater desire of young African-American people that are showing an interest in food systems with a focus on self-sufficiency. I think there has been an awakening where people want to know how they can grow for themselves. COVID-19 has revealed the inequalities—some of the gaps that exist in the food system. So younger people are more interested in self-sufficiency. The desire to be more independent is something that I am particularly pleased with.

Q:  In philanthropy, there is often a give and take. A reciprocal relationship. So how has your involvement impacted you as a man?

A:  I think that it has been fundamental to the man that I have become. I think through finding myself, I have kind of lost myself. Not seeing myself as independent or just one vessel. The teaching of Marcus Mosiah Garvey has really really helped me put things into perspective in terms of the order of my life. He says that it is “God, family, and our people,” and so I try to adhere to those lessons and strategies. Through my divine instruction, I keep my family cared for. I have been married 31 years; 3 beautiful children, a beautiful wife. My family allows me to extend myself to the greater community.

To find out more about this organization, please visit their website.


About the Contributor
Lucy
 Sams is an Extension Master Food Volunteer with the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Mecklenburg County Center. Additionally, she is a travel journalist, children’s book author, and serialpreneur who dedicates her time to being of service to her community and enjoying the people she loves. Her motto is “There is ALWAYS a way.”