It's Saturday morning, and a group of eager, energetic inner-city teenagers pour through the door of Bill Cottman's house and catch the aroma of pancakes on the griddle. Wearing baggy pants, oversized T-shirts and sweatshirts, and athletic shoes of every size and shape, it is obvious they are glad to be part of this event.

Cottman waves his spatula and welcomes the boys to come and get it. Soon the group, which includes adult sponsors from Park Avenue Methodist Church, a multi-racial, inner-city congregation in south Minneapolis, is seated at a table and enjoying a spread of steaming pancakes, fresh sausage, and hot maple syrup.

Yet, this morning's meeting of Simba (the Swahili word for lion) is not just about breakfast. It is about teaching young, black, inner-city boys what it means "to be a Christian African-American male," according to Cottman, a systems sales manager with Honeywell Corporation. With the mind of an engineer, he is always thinking of a creative, tangible way to teach the weekly lesson. Now close to 50 years old, Cottman conveys the calm and confidence of a high-level corporate executive. His personal warmth and sense of self-assurance helps put the boys at ease as they take off their jackets and pull up to the table.

Once breakfast is over and the dishes cleared, the energetic youth gather in the living room to listen to Cottman and other adults tell them about their own lives and faith.

"I graduated from Salisbury High School in Salisbury, Maryland, and then from Howard University with an electrical engineering degree," he explains. "My father died when I was 12 years old. I have only a few recollections of my dad, and they are good, but it was my mother who raised me."

The highlight of Cottman's story this ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.