Recently I received a phone call from a mother who said, “I heard you can help mothers find mentors for their children.” Through my longtime work in the mentoring field, I am often met with challenges similar to this one: single mothers faced with raising their sons without a father or positive male role model in their lives. There were a couple of things clear to me before she said another word: first, I wasn’t the first person or organization she had called looking for guidance for her son; second, something had created this urgency for her not to leave a stone unturned as she sought to find help; and lastly, there was an element of frustration in her request given the many dead ends she has faced.
As I listened to her, I could not help but think about the millions of mothers around the country who are struggling with the same issue of not being able to find viable programs that offer formalized mentoring programs. Even though there is probably a Big Brother, Big Sister, YMCA or Boys and Girls Club in many communities, these three alone are not enough to fill the mentoring gap.
We can see the issues saturating our inner cities and leaving destruction in their path. We ask: “where are all the good men?” Scores of reports, papers and research have documented the devastating statistics effecting black men. In 1965 the report The Negro Family: The Case For National Action, by New York Senator Patrick Moynihan, continued to speak to the statistics that devastates black families, but black males in particular. Even the New York Times has found a readership interest in defining the reasons for the absence of black men in black communities.
Somehow, we must get past what seems like the normalcy of the situation and begin to react to the urgency of our children’s need. The problems created for children by not having responsible fathers and mentors are evident. It’s painful to see that the poor outcomes of these children have not been enough to motivate more adults to consider mentoring as a responsibility.
A few weeks ago we saw the ugly side of mentoring when 45-year-old rapper Too Short was interviewed by XXL magazine and described how little boys could sexually take advantage of little girls. As a father, I cringe to think that any kid who goes to the same school as my daughters might hear this, believe it, and further attempt to try it. What chance does a young girl have to combat this idiotic behavior without a positive, nurturing, caring, and loving father in her life? Or when dad is unavailable, an actively responsible male role model to convey what true manhood really looks like for both girls and boys?
Though National Mentoring Month has now passed, the gap remains. Our children are vulnerable and under attack by dysfunctional societal behaviors. When active fathers and mothers are not in the lives of their children they are not fully protected from the chaos that awaits them each and every day. More must be done to recruit mentors, specifically black male mentors. It’s an obligation that can’t be stressed enough.
This phone call served as a wake-up call for me that we have a long way to go. My advice to her was simple: Never give up on your son. Look for indirect opportunities for mentoring such as organized activities in sports and school clubs. Get into a church that has a strong youth ministry. Do anything, but don’t allow him to do nothing. The more you keep your child occupied the less chance they have to get in trouble.
I’m optimistic that the advice I gave this mother will help in her search for a mentor. I also hope that what I said keeps her motivated not to give up yet smart enough not to place her child in harm’s way just for the sake of providing him with a mentor. Not just any mentor will do, only the right one.