Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Choices - Mentoring Our Youth

Choices.  That will be the topic of discussion during the upcoming months I will spend mentoring a group of Indiana Public School boys in the 5th through 8th grades.  The program, under the auspices of the 100 Black Men of Indianapolis will start back up this Fall even as this year's cycle concludes. After being a mentor for 4 years I've worked in the background the past 3 years.  I've helped out performing the administrative support and grunt work needed to support the mentors who spend time in the classroom with the students.  Now it's time for me to return as an active mentor to share my experiences and knowledge with the youth who want to improve.

The program does what it can to reach as many as students as possible.  It's not a perfect program, but it beats doing nothing to help mold today's youth into leading a positive life.  I have four months of preparation ahead of me.  My goal is to share, teach, and inspire.  Share my experiences and how good and bad choices shaped my life.  Share the critical decisions made by several family members and how those decisions shaped and impacted their lives.  Teach what others either taught me or what I learned through trial and error.  Inspire others to move along the appropriate path to accomplish their dreams.

As I prepare it gives ample time to reflect on my journey.  One event I will share with my students happened when I was 10 years old.  I shared a bedroom in what must have been an 8 x 10 sized room with my older two brothers.  Each of us had a plain bed with no headboard.  It was just a metal frame bed with a thin mattress on it.  It may have been a slight upgrade to the kind of beds prisoners sleep on in jails.  The beds were set against 3 of the 4 walls in the room. We shared a 4 drawer dresser.  There was no television in the room.  No tables, no radio, no games.  Three beds and a dresser.  The only light was the ceiling light.

I recall sleeping in my bed with several size D batteries beneath my pillow.  The reason?  At night rats would come out and gnaw on the wooden dresser. The gnawing sound was of course annoying when you're trying to sleep late at night. To stop the rats from making the gnawing sound I would throw one of the size D batteries against the dresser.  The noise would stop for awhile.  Then it would start up again. My response was to fling another battery at the bottom of the dresser.  From prior nights I had learned to have an adequate supply of batteries stashed under my pillow in case my rat nemesis didn't scare off easily.

I think of those days now and realize that those events served as inspiration and motivation for me.  I was motivated to find a way where as an adult my living condition would be better.  It inspired me to realize that two of the avenues for a black youngster to aspire to success at that time were closed to me.  First, I did not possess great athletic skills for a career in sports.  Secondly I did not have a great singing voice to become an entertainer.  During the 1960s when I was growing up, it was the heyday of Motown in the music industry.  But I knew that Berry Gordy would not be signing me to a recording deal.

I will share with my mentees that I came to the realization that education was my ticket to a better life in my future.  That's the choice I made.  I hope to have my mentees pause and look at their life, then be motivated and inspired to seek education as their path.

I want to show my students that my decision to follow the education path has resulted in my now leading a comfortable life as a retiree.  The background of my students will be similar. African American or Hispanic boys from low income families.  Hopefully some will be from two parent families.  The majority will qualify for free lunches.  That itself will dictate that the mentoring program will need to either be during student's lunch period or on the weekend where food can be served.  One thing the current program learned is that an after school mentoring program without a component to feed the students is a losing battle when the student is hungry.

Choices. It's important to show our youth that they can control their destiny.  They need guidance and the attention of others to help them move their lives forward.  If you have some free time consider getting involved by becoming a mentor in your community.

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