This past weekend, I attended the NAACP lunching and was surrounded by a room full of accomplished people. I brought a couple of young people I mentor with me – so they can see what success looks like. It’s important that our youth see how successful people hold and carry themselves. The confidence that comes with accomplishment is often unseen in our poorest neighborhoods, as successful people move out, never to return. Westchester’s County Executive, George Latimer, gave a speech at the luncheon where he echoed the same sentiment. He called for people to be role models of success – to pass along the ingredients of what made people successful to those who need it most.
Everything that it takes to make a difference in those young men’s lives already exists within us. Our lives have been filled with lessons learned with great joys and sorrows. We’ve made mistakes and we have overcome great obstacles. We have seen the world beyond the neighborhood and we’ve been inspired to succeed. Now, it’s our turn to reach back and pull up one of those boys by being a mentor to them.
I have been participating in youth mentoring for over a decade, and I truly feel it is the most important work I have ever done. As a public servant, I am called to serve the City as a whole. But, as a mentor, I am called to serve one individual at a time by simply making them a priority with a gift they are not getting at home. Sometimes, it’s about life lessons. Sometimes, it’s about seeing new things or places or just about spending time together. I have seen my mentees go on to succeed and find their own paths in this world. Many have come back, asking how they can help the next generation of kids. I have never felt more proud of anyone or anything than when I heard those words.
You do need to make a commitment of your time. Usually, it works out to about four hours a month. Think of how much time you spend on Facebook, Instagram or watching reruns of shows you’ve already seen. If you add up that time alone, you’ll find you’re wasting way more than four hours a month. I can honestly tell you that no amount of “friends” or “followers” on social media will replace or surpass the connection you feel as a mentor. It will give your life a meaning it has probably been missing – one you’ve been filling with so-called friends on the Internet.
The Big Brothers Big Sisters program will help you. You’re not going to be thrown into it without guidance and assistance. They’ll give you the basic tools, but the real value is going to come from you. What you show these kids by simply being present in their lives can alter the trajectory of their paths forever. Being available on the other end of the phone can be the difference between life and death. They are like sponges, soaking in everything they see – good and bad. You have the power to be a force for good in their lives. That is a power that too few of us realize we have.
In the next few months, I will be actively recruiting mentors to participate in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program in Mount Vernon. If you see me on the street or in church, chances are I will try to sign you up. My primary focus will be on getting men to volunteer as mentors to our young boys. With no disrespect to our women or young girls, this program has a huge hole to fill because of a lack of male mentors. I’ve made it my mission to help fill that hole. We need successful men to make time for the next generation of successful men.
Do it for selfless reasons. Do it for selfish reasons. It doesn’t really matter. just do it. Denzel Washington, a favorite son of Mount Vernon and a huge proponent of the value of mentors said: “It’s not how much you have. It’s what you do with what you have…. The most selfish thing you can do in this world is help someone else. Why is it selfish? Because the gratification, the goodness that comes to you, the good feeling … nothing is better than that.” I can personally attest to that statement.
Remember, the greatest give that you can ever give is yourself. Over the next few months, I will be trying to get you to join me in making a difference for our young boys. You’ll thank me later.
If you have thoughts or comments about this issue or want to be a mentor, reach out to me at [email protected]