Jefferson Awards: Building A Community To Improve Lives

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Herbert Lofton (CBS)

Herbert Lofton (CBS)

OAKLAND (KPIX 5) – An East Bay man who worked for 34 years as an Oakland employee and union president bringing people together in work is now using those skills to create a different kind of community.

There is something good happening in a small garage in Oakland. “In this garage, when you come here, you come with your shirt out,” Herbert Lofton explained. “You’re free, you’re comfortable, and you can say anything you want.”

Lofton calls his family garage the “Men’s Den,” a room he converted several years ago when his weekly bible study meetings outgrew his living room. But if you think these gatherings are just about theology, you’d be mistaken.

A group of six men grew to a crowd of sixty — and the non-profit Brother to Brother was born. That was 13 years ago, and since then, Lofton’s Brother to Brother meetings have touched the lives of hundreds of black men in the East Bay.

Twenty-three-year-old Octavious Webster comes to learn from the wisdom in the room.

“I don’t have to make the same mistakes they did,” Webster said. “I just listen the first time and I avoid those bumps in the road.”

In addition to the Tuesday night meetings, there are now family support nights, where Elliot Osborne says he was finally able to heal from childhood wounds.

“I never had an opportunity to process that, never had a counselor or therapist or anybody like that, but I had an opportunity through Brothers to Brother to talk to other grown men who had gone through various addictions of different kinds,” Osborne said.

“This is what I was trying to do,” Lofton adds. “Bring black men together for a common cause.”

The garage walls are covered with photos of community service projects and yearly retreats.

“We’ve had guys that come from penitentiaries, we’ve had guys who’ve been school teachers, we have professors here of junior college,” Lofton explained. “When they come in here, you can’t say, “I am this.’ No, you’re not welcome — you are a man here and by being a man here we talk about men things and do men things.”

But Lofton admits he couldn’t do all this without the help of a woman. His wife of 54 years, Rena, takes it upon herself to feed the men every week. She says she supports this project because she sees results.

“It has helped the family tremendously,” she said.

“I think it’s made me a better person,” Lofton added. “I think it’s made me a better family man, and I know it’s made me a better person in the community.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by everyone in the group.

“There isn’t another group that does what this group does for grown men,” Elliot Osborne said.

Octavious Webster said. “This man is not only a character, but he brings character to those he is around.”

So for providing the leadership to help men in his community improve their lives, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Herbert Lofton.

Note: Brother to Brother would appreciate any sponsorship contribution to help their many programs, including scholarships, retreats, and meals. If you can help, connect with Herbert Lofton at 510-654-7684.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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