The final bell has rung and 16 junior high boys jostle into a classroom at St. Andrew Nativity School in Northeast Portland. As one is about to sit down, a prankster slides the chair back, leaving his classmate sprawling.
A burst of laughter comes at first, but then the boys begin to reprimand the mischief-maker, saying he could have hurt his friend.
It's that seed of leadership and conscience that George Weatheroy wants to cultivate.
A retired Portland Police sergeant and now head of security for Portland Public Schools, Weatheroy spends off hours mentoring the boys at St. Andrew, a tuition-free Jesuit middle school. Most students are African American or Latino and come from families that otherwise could not afford a private education. The hours are long and the expectations high.
"Each one of you needs to look at his behavior and see what changes he needs to make," Weatheroy says to the 16 lads, who have gathered after hours for a club called Boys2Men. Established by teacher Sonya Strickland, it's an effort to build character in the youths. Weatheroy is seen as a prime role model.
At the start of the session, after Strickland has taken the chair-puller into the hall for a firm reprimand, Weatheroy circles the group for prayer.
"Help these boys make good decisions at school and away from school," he prays.
Strickland hands the former cop a list of boys and their infractions for the past week. Most have done well, and they get a round of applause. But some have three or four violations, academic and behavioral. Weatheroy directly calls out the boy with the worst record.
"All your teachers deserve respect," he says. "These teachers here love you guys. They really sincerely care about you."
There are 21 boys in the group, a large portion of St. Andrew's 6th and 7th graders.
After prayer and accountability time, there is usually a video or a guest speaker followed by discussion. This is when the great ideas of people like St. Ignatius or the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. get translated into the lives of boys trying to get by in the inner city.
During Black History Month, they learned that African Americans were not always welcome in schools as good as St. Andrew. Then, if behavior warrants it, Weatheroy buys pizza.
Some St. Andrew students will attend Catholic high schools, including Jesuit, Weatheroy's alma mater. When he attended in the early 1970s, he was the only African American in his class. Though neighbor kids around his childhood home at Northeast 9th and Beech razzed him for going to a school "for white kids," he always felt welcome at Jesuit and part of the community. When players from the opposing teams hurled slurs at him, his teammates backed him up. He has never forgotten.
As a student at Jesuit, he performed his Christian service at St. Mary's Home for Boys, an orphanage turned residence for troubled youths. That planted a seed for his future career and volunteerism.
Weatheroy, 57 and now a grandfather, spent 25 years as a police officer, specializing in school policing. He served on the board of trustees at Jesuit High when he heard about St. Andrew and the underprivileged students it served. Six years ago, he took a tour.
"I fell in love with the school and what they were trying to do," he says. Soon Strickland invited him to help with Boys2Men. He has tried to impart his work ethic and his belief in respecting others. He knows, from years of experience in schools and on the streets, that boys hit by poverty face temptations like drugs and alcohol, gang membership and crime. He recognizes that many boys in the neighborhood lack an authoritative man in their lives.
It's clear that the students in Boys2Men respect Weatheroy and do not want to disappoint him. Discussion ranges from what to expect in high school to how excelling in education can translate into good jobs.
“The boys absolutely love him because he can relate to them in many ways and he makes it obvious how much he cares about them,” Strickland says.
For Weatheroy, a Baptist with a long affinity for Catholicism, the main problem among youth is "the decline of spirituality." He says Catholic schools have an advantage, because a faith life is often the best way for a young man to set his life on a good course.
John Gladstone, president of Jesuit High School, says Weatheroy has for years been a "super example of a person who simply and humbly does the right thing."
Gladstone says Weatheroy has touched the lives of hundreds of people directly: "He treats every person he meets with respect and dignity, he always gives his best, and he is determined to make our world better each day."