Hope is an all-too-rare commodity in many corners of our city. In the last few weeks, some of that has begun to change. A recent town hall meeting demonstrated that spirited discussion is possible without the tenor of an angry mob. Reinvigorated city leadership appears to have embraced a positive new direction.
While these signs are a welcome divergence from the gloom of yore, they represent only a sliver of what must now be done. Fortunately, a number of engaged individuals have given us a promising model to follow.
Perhaps the best example of this came with the visit of Susan L. Taylor, the founder and CEO of the National Cares Mentoring Movement. Taylor, the editor-in-chief emeritus of Essence magazine, passionately addressed an audience assembled at UAPB. Her remarks went straight to the heart of our city’s most profound and protracted problem: the hopeless discarding of so many young black men.
As reported in the Commercial, Taylor told the group, “The village is on fire. The first responders are white women, then white men, and then black women and black men. Most of those who need help are young black men, and yet, we don’t show up. We need to hear the call and get involved.”
According to Taylor, the cornerstone of this involvement is mentoring. When Taylor asked attendee Rev. Jesse Turner, the director of the Interested Citizens for Voter Registration, about the extent of the immediate local need, he responded, “Five hundred children … need mentoring.”
Taylor then admonished the audience. “One hour a week and five hundred people. That’s not hard is it? We can do that.”
She’s right. We can do that. We should do that. While we are often much more comfortable standing by with accusatory fingers outstretched, those 500 kids roam the streets, neglect their studies and unwittingly prepare themselves for a future of diminished returns.
Yes, we can all easily identify the more obvious causes: indifferent and inadequate parenting; a lack of strong values; the normalization of crime; indolence compounded by expectance; poverty… Regardless of the causes, we are still confronted with the effects. Those children will grow up either way. We have an opportunity to interrupt their predictable and unpleasant paths.
As Taylor and Turner indicate, mentoring is a good place to start. As we prepare to observe the Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday, we should heed King’s words, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’”
An outgrowth of this admonishment is the MLK Day of Service. According to the MLK Day of Service website (www.mlk.gov), “The MLK Day of Service is a part of United We Serve, the president’s national call to service initiative. It calls for Americans from all walks of life to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems. The MLK Day of Service empowers individuals, strengthens communities, bridges barriers, creates solutions to social problems and moves us closer to Dr. King’s vision of a ‘Beloved Community.’”
In turn the broader United We Serve effort (www.serve.gov) emphasizes the importance of mentoring. “The connection in mentoring — pairing young people with caring adults — is a youth development strategy that can create a path to successful adulthood for our children. We know that youth who have a mentor are more likely to: Attend and be more engaged in school (Students with mentors are 52 percent less likely than their peers to skip a day of school and 37 percent less likely to skip classes.); Finish high school and continue onto college; Form more positive social attitudes and relationships.
One look around tells us that we a need little more of all those things. Maybe it takes a village, maybe it just takes you. Either way, the kids need us.