They're learning through storytelling. When Mike Thomas stands in front of a group of black teens and boys, he tells him about ways he messed up as a young man. His audience soaks it in.

“Mike and the other mentors — they tell us their stories and they help us avoid those things,” said Lorenzo Rogers, a rising junior at Brookstone School who’s part of a new ministry in Columbus called the Gentle Kings.

The group, which launched about three months ago, is having a block party for the community 11 a.m.-2 p.m. today outside Thornton’s BBQ on Cusseta Road. Thomas works at the restaurant. The day will include a school supplies giveaway; food; games; music; vendors; coupons for free haircuts; and the Body of Christ Church’s K.R.U.M.P. Dancers, which stands for Kingdom Radical Uplifting Mighty Praisers. Gentle Kings groups meet every second and fourth Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Blue Fast Tax on Buena Vista Road; and 4-6 p.m. every Tuesday at the Frank D. Chester Recreation Center on Benning Drive; and Thomas is about to launch a third group for young men in Dublin, Ga. It will meet every Saturday. He is scouting a location there.About Gentle Kings

The mission of Gentle Kings, according to its Web site, is “to bring forth, from the hearts of the male youth, the physical manifestation of accountability, responsibility, consideration, credibility, and integrity into their everyday life activities. In striving to accomplish this mission, Gentle Kings will, with the help of Holy Spirit: mentor, guide and instruct our male youth toward a path of eternal awareness of being God-created men and God-designed kings in this earth; provide revelatory teaching to our male youth to walk after Christ Jesus; address the issues our male youth face and teach them how to positively and responsibly resolve these issues, thereby helping them to grow educationally, emotionally, socially, physically, and most importantly, spiritually.”

Gentle Kings is also working on a group for young black girls and teens called Precious Stones. It will be led by Thomas’ wife, Kim, and their friend Loretta Stewart.Building leaders

When Thomas talks about a prototypical young man he’s trying to reach, he describes one who’s “kind of self-raised. We’re trying to bring them from just waking up every day and surviving,” he said. “Long term, we pray these young men will be the leaders they’re supposed to be, instead of falling by the wayside.”

Statistics are against these young people: Today, more African-American men are in jail or prison than in college, according to a study from the Justice Policy Institute. The number of black males in prison has grown five times in 20 years. By mid-2007, about 20 percent of U.S. black men per 100,000 were serving sentences, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Gentle Kings is affiliated with Body of Christ International, led by the Rev. Greg Blue, but is not an official arm of it. However, the men’s groups are aligned with Perfecting Ministries Worldwide, a non-denominational ministry led by Blue. The clergyman will be one of the speakers today.

Thomas said he’s hoping for 500 young people to turn out at the event, which will take place outside the restaurant with the pitched roof.

Lorenzo will be helping out. He has a younger brother, 13-year-old Eric, whom he’s bringing along to the group meetings. Between the two existing groups in south Columbus, about 70 young people total show up.

“We’re supposed to bring our boys in and help them learn. It’s up to us to bring the members in,” Lorenzo said.

Another participant these past few months has been Cedric Chambers, 18. He’s about to go to Savannah State University and hopes to find a similar support system there.

“I’ve learned to better myself, attitude-wise,” he said. “You know how you sometimes want to snap at everybody.” He’s learned how to control that, he said, and also to plan for his future.