Tim Gregory, executive director of The Huddle of South Jersey. Photo courtesy of Tim Gregory

By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media

SALEM — City councilman Tim Gregory said he prefers the term mentor instead of role model in describing his work with the nonprofit he created The Huddle of South Jersey, because one can learn more from your mistakes than your accomplishments.

Gregory said he has been drawn to help men and fathers not because he hasn’t made mistakes, but because he has.

“I made plenty of mistakes in my life and will continue to make mistakes,” Gregory said. “It is more about my journey from point A to B that should be examined. That why I prefer the term mentor over role model.”

The Huddle is a nonprofit Gregory started four years ago to enhance, empower, and encourage men to meet their full potential utilizing their gifts, talents and abilities to positively impact their family, community and future generations. Gregory said the organization wants to develop men into their intended role as father’s, husbands, leaders, teachers and productive citizens in society.

“Four year ago, a group of guys got together and we decided we didn’t like the way our young men and our fathers were being represented,” said Gregory, 37, who is married and a father to five kids of his own. “There’s no support for men, as far as a safe space for us to talk. Where can we go and discus our issues that we have?

“So what we came up with was a support group. A support group that allows men to come and talk to others and also, to get parenting advice. You learn how to be a parent from your parents, and a lot of our young men in this Salem County area didn’t have a dad growing up. We started with parenting advice, and then we just evolved from there. Now we offer help with child support, stress, hope, anger, co-parent issues. And we also work with agencies about making their agency more father-friendly. So we’re trying to be a voice for dads,” he added.

“As executive director, it is my responsibility to market, recruit and facilitate the program all on budget,” Gregory said. “I work with men from all walks of life where we discuss issues like a lot of issues.”

Gregory said the name of the organization centers around what most men can relate to – sports. He said the in the logo, the men form a circle that looks like a huddle but it is actually a prayer circle. The Salem County branch of the NAACP honored Gregory for his community service at its annual breakfast last year.

“Our first meeting started at the Holy Temple Church, as far as our meeting space was concerned,” Gregory said. “And then like from there, we just grew. We grew, we got more involved into our community, so we are a community-based organization. So we get more involved in the community because we want to see changes in our community.”

Gregory said he hopes to use The Huddle to break what he sees are generational cycles of poverty, neglect and despair in some men today.

“I tell some guys, ‘Listen, what’s important to you?,'” Gregory said. “When you were in jail you were saying, ‘Oh, my kids, my kids, my kids.’ When you get out of jail, you can’t go back to jail because what are you doing to your kids? Now your kids are growing up in a situation that you grew up in and we’re repeating the cycle.

“Sometimes a lot of this stuff is generational. And we got to figure out how to stop it. And the way to stop it is by educating our young men on how to be better men,” he added.

Gregory said he hopes through The Huddle’s mentoring, programs and events, it can reach many young people before they do damage to their lives that are irreversible.

“We offer resources to dads all the way around and we also offer resources to young men of color mentorship with let’s say Atlantic City Electric, with the unions, with the electrician and plumbers so they can have some stability. Anybody that’s going through a situation, we can offer them number one, a better sense of self.

“Number two, you got your health together, right. You got your health, you got diabetes, you got high blood pressure, let’s talk about different eating styles, that type of deal. Then number three, what type of job have you got? Not everybody’s meant to go to college, okay. Let’s look at you as an individual, where do you need to be. So we really want this to be a holistic program for men and young boys of color when they need help,” he added.

Gregory wanted to make sure he put his money where he mouth was as far as getting involved in making community changes when he was elected to the Salem City Council last year. He is involved in the community services, human services and redevelopment committees on council, reflecting his intent on positively affect as many people as he can.

“The reason why I got involved in city council was because I live in this community and I believe that there’s going to come a time where I can only have so many barbershop conversations,” said Gregory, who has been a warehouse manager in Salem for 14 years. “We have to start putting the boots on the ground and start changing things. The only way you going to change the system is by being part of the system.

“People often talk about replacing the system, but what are you going to replace it with? If you have something you feel passionate about, a certain subject, or you feel passionate about a certain thing, how are you going to change it? You got to learn the ins and outs of it. So I joined council to help change our community,” he added.

Gregory, who graduated from Salem High School in 1999, chuckled when he confirmed that he is the youngest person on city council, saying he would like to invigorate the body with new ideas and energy.

Gregory said he hopes to inspire young people to believe that they can serve on city council and take part in the community as well.

“I want them to know, ‘Hey, listen. You can do this, too,'” Gregory said. “I can lead by example to get more young people into politics. As black people, we need to get more people that represent our community into politics, to start making the change that we need. And that’s one of my roles, too.”

Gregory has also expanded his political role as an advisor in the South Jersey Young Democrats Black Caucus, which works to inspire and encourage more young African-Americans to get involved in the political field.

“That’s a really great movement,” Gregory said of the caucus. “I love it. It is really getting young people of color involved in politics. It’s needed. My only problem with it is how come it wasn’t made sooner?

“We’re going to get together, and we’re going to support each other. We’re going to get young people of color in the mix. That’s what we’re going to do. We’ll get them to vote, we’re going to talk about even the education piece. What does a city council person do? What does a city clerk do? What does your county clerk do? What’s the job of a representative, a senator? Because one thing we hear is about our national politics, but people really don’t know where the jobs are,” he continued.

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Fatima Heyward, president of the black caucus called Gregory “an inspiration” to the organization.

While Gregory said he has not thought that far into his political future, he knows he wants to continue reaching young people, particularly young men of color, to let them know that there is a bright future ahead of him if they are willing to get into the huddle and learn the right plays.

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