The National Coalition on Black Civic Participation

Black Women's Roundtable

Standing Strong for Our Children

By Susan L. Taylor

NCBCP Black Women's Roundtable Whispering Out Loud Series

Let's tell the truth: We've fallen into forgetfulness and apathy. Though our foreparents risked all that was dear to them to open a way for us, we have relinquished the fundamental Black values that guided their lives. The great benefits that millions of us enjoy today don't come from nothing. They have grown out of a long and glorious legacy of mutual love, faith in God and commitment to the children. These core values traveled with them over the seas and centuries. They emboldened enslaved Africans to get up from servitude, challenge racist practices, stand strong in the face of heinous acts of violence today's Black people will never know.

We are the beneficiaries of unimaginable suffering and sacrifice and also strategic thinking, planning and action. But on our watch, with all our privileges, technology and supports, we are doing far less for our young than was done for us. We are the first generation of African Americans to allow the next generation to lose ground. Millions of our children are in peril; it's their worst time since slavery, said Marian Wright Edelman. Yet, there isn't a single issue we are organized around. Not one that Black leaders have agreed upon and are standing together on to work for change.

When we shrink back from the values and work that moved us forward, the consequences are life-destroying. The village falls apart. Today, on our watch, these are the chilling facts:

  • 58 percent of Black 4th graders are functionally illiterate.
  • In some cities only 18% of Black males graduate from high school.
  • A Black male is 700 percent more likely than a White male to be sentenced to prison.
  • Nearly one million Black men are imprisoned in a for-profit system built on unfair drug-sentencing laws.
  • Suicide is rising fast among our children. HIV/AIDS is the leading cause of death for our young women.
  • The leading cause of death for our Black boys is homicide.

All of this and we are not outraged - but pointing the finger at sagging pants, do-rags and the misogynistic and murderous messages in music we've allowed. Instead, let's look in the mirror. Let us accept our responsibility for not governing the village more carefully. Our young in crisis don't need more policing or punishment.

They need us. They need our attention, guidance and encouragement. They need Black love.

A recent study by the California Mentor Foundation of 124 mentoring programs showed that, of youngsters matched with mentors:

  • 98 percent stayed in school
  • 98 percent avoided a teen pregnancy
  • 85 percent did not use drugs
  • 98 percent avoided gang participation

It's time for us to act! Greatly disproportionate numbers of caring White sisters and brothers are mentoring our children. They are the first respondents. We are the last. The National CARES Mentoring Movement (NCMM) is a call to us - to our faith leaders and leaders in the public and private sectors and every able, stable Black adult - to come out of our silos and work together to galvanize volunteers to guide and encourage our vulnerable young.

Here's the ask: Let us do what Black folks have had difficulty doing for several decades. Let us get along. Agree. Link arms and aims and take care of the mothers and fathers of our tomorrows. Their future is in our hands.

Mentor a child. Mentoring is one investment that has shown disproportionately positive returns. Dedicating just four hours a month can save and secure a life. Log on to caresmentoring.com and input your zip code for a list of nearby mentoring opportunities.

With family and friends group mentor our struggling young in a reentry program, an underserved school, a group home. Push your faith leader to do the work of the church, which also lies beyond the congregation. Support the educators and children in the nearest failing school with books, supplies, encouragement - and mentors.

Working together we will write a new history for our children. Mentoring is the answer. And it's a privilege.

Susan L. Taylor is editor-in-chief emeritus of Essence Magazine, Founder and CEO of the National CARES Mentoring Movement and a member of the Black Women's Roundtable.


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