Black mentoring initiative launchedBy La Risa Lynch -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: Oct 25, 2013 - 6:29:18 PM
High School on Chicago’s south side is first pilot for program
Last year, the city of Chicago had more than 500 homicides earning it the dubious distinction as the murder capital of the nation.
“The village is on fire,” Ms. Taylor said of the violence that disproportionately affects Black youths. “Those things that we call bad behaviors are really our children’s cries for help. … Young people who have hopes, dreams, jobs, education [and] who see a future are not killing people. … We have to figure out how to rebuild our community economically, spiritually (and) socially. It is a call to love one another again.”
That rebuilding starts with mentors. And Ms. Taylor’s National CARES Mentoring Movement (NCMM) is leading the charge to get more Blacks involved in mentoring. Her organization is rolling out a pilot program where mentors work directly in schools to inspire, empower and support young people.
The Rising initiative aims to transform lives of children trapped in inter-generational poverty by engaging them in prevention, wellness, and emotional support programs. The program is being piloted at Harlan High School, 9652 S Michigan Ave., on Chicago’s South Side.
Called Harlan Rising, the in-school mentoring program provides academic enrichment and cultural development to help youth avoid gangs, drug and incarceration while increasing graduation rates. Through workshops and assemblies students will learn conflict resolution, civic engagement and cultural consciousness in a group setting.
Harlan is the only school in the nation and the first in Chicago to take part in this initiative. NCMM hopes to scale the program and implement it in the 60 cities where the organization has chapters. NCMM is working with its Chicago chapter Windy City CARES to recruit, train and retain a network of Black mentors.
“We focus on Black mentors because when the call goes out for mentors, the first responders is White women, and then White men and then Black women and then Black men,” said Ms. Taylor, author and editor-in-chief emeritus of Essence Magazine.
The crisis that many Black children face is self-made within the Black community, said Dr. Dyson, a Georgetown University professor. Black adults, he said, are literally convicting Black children for the way they speak, dress or music they listen to.
“We made them criminals in our own minds. We might as well be Black George Zimmerman’s,” Dr. Dyson said, adding that Black youth suffer unknown damage just by the negative things adults say to them.
George Zimmerman was the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed unarmed teen Trayvon Martin in 2012. Zimmerman was acquitted of the murder in July.
Dr. Dyson urged adults to make it a ritual to affirm their Black children.
“You must have the conviction that they are worth the investment. That’s why we are asking you to mentor them. Don’t be their tormentors. Be their mentors,” he said. “We need you to love the hell out of these kids so God can use them for God’s purpose.”
Part of the initiative involves getting institutional organizations like churches, colleges, and community organizations to commit resources to Harlan High School. Chicago State University, University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and Trinity United Church of Christ are among those pledging support for the school.
Trinity, President Barack Obama’s former church, has pledged support through a variety of programming including summer jobs, ACT prep classes, mental health services and its urban farm initiative which provides agriculture training for students.
Trinity’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss believes mentoring can reduce the violence that claims so many young lives on Chicago streets. As of September 22, there were 317 murders in Chicago down 19 percent from a year ago when there were 393 homicides for the same time period.
“Young people right now have the wrong mentors, and it is partly our fault that people have mentored them that in order to solve their problems it is through violence,” Rev. Moss said, noting that Black youths need someone to model for them what it means to be a man or a women. You cannot be what you cannot see,” he said.
UIC plans to work to boost Harlan’s reading score. Harlan has an average ACT score of 15.3. Reading and writing are keys to success, explained Alfred Tatum, Ph.D., UIC’s interim dean of College of Education.
“When kids have low levels of literacy, they surrender their life chances before they get to know their life choices. That’s why it is critical to have a reading and writing component of this initiative,” he said. “So what I am trying to do is bring a curriculum that helps kids read their way into college and write their way out.”
The program targets freshmen and juniors — both critical times for kids. Getting freshmen off on the right start lessens the chances of dropouts and working with juniors ensures they are college-ready, Harlan Principal Reginald Evans said.
But Evans has already seen changes in the students, especially in building connections with mentors.
“The kid that was acting out and having behavior problems starts trying to try because he or she has gotten to know somebody,” Mr. Evans said, noting school has seen less fights.
“What we want to get downtown to see is how we are building the whole child. It is not just about the test scores,” Mr. Evans said. “We are pushing to build test scores, but we are overlooking what’s lacking in many kids’ lives. ...Without building that self-esteem and pride, you just can’t get a higher test score. So we got to do it on both ends.”