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  • Billy W. Richardson, Jr.

Mentors Matter!

By: Billy W. Richardson, Jr.

Raising Black children in the eighties was challenging. The obstacles confronting Black youth were deadly: AIDS, crack cocaine, and gang violence. Although raised in a two-parent household, the negative messaging still surrounded me. Too often, movies, music, and television define Black people as the epicenter of antisocial behaviors. We could easily get steered in the wrong direction based on how much we were influenced by what we heard, saw, or desired to be accepted by certain people. My parents were well aware of the minefields awaiting me, their Black son, outside our home.

They did their best to guide me down the right path so that I would make positive life choices. However, they were not with me in school, at parties, or when I was hanging out with friends. As much as they tried to protect me, I was the first and last line of defense regarding life-altering decisions usually made in a matter of moments. Luckily for me, I had several adults who had invested time nurturing me. And I could hear their voices constantly whispering in my ear during those crucial moments. The truth is that more voices, more positive and wise voices, are needed than simply those of parents, preachers, and teachers to combat the well-structured negative environment in which Black youth exist, which is why MENTORS MATTER!

The drug culture within the Black community has had a devastating effect over the past few decades. It is a wonder there is even any youth left to mentor. Our children are introduced to substances that can and will change their lives forever before they are old enough to swim in the deep end of the pool. The question then becomes: where’s the intervention? Who is the adult standing between the drug dealer and Black children? Who is the adult telling Black children that music glamorizing the drug lifestyle is actually music glamorizing death? These adults are needed becauseMENTORS MATTER!

Gang activity combined with the drug lifestyle has wreaked havoc in the Black community. While gang life and drugs are glossed over as everyday life in the Black community by the entertainment industry, the violence it leaves destroys the community’s fabric. It is hard to keep a child on the straight and narrow when they are bombarded with destructive images disguised as ‘cool’ or ‘socially acceptable. Social media plays a major role in the promotion of this destructive mentality. Basing their self-worth on likes, followers, and views, they become ‘influencers’ and ‘celebrities’ without a sense of responsibility. It begs the question, who is influencing the influencer?

Peer pressure to engage in detrimental behaviors to the Black community has not been quelled. So, it should be no surprise when we see violence streamed live via social media. It is the ugly by-product of where the nation has been headed over the past decade or so. The Black youth are leading themselves into destruction, seemingly with no end in sight and no one to tell them otherwise. Being ambassadors of peace in the face of violence is why MENTORS MATTER!

I have worked with the youth in some capacity for over twenty years, and I know that it takes all of us. It is imperative that there be a push back from adults and children to combat the destructive forces plaguing our communities.

Community centers, faith-based institutions, and most importantly, the family unit must work in tandem. We must implement systems that value life and community transformation. Not just living, but thriving. Mentoring and educating our children and young adults must become a priority. Simply understanding that there are alternatives is a giant first step. Too many youths feel trapped and alone.

A loving parent, a cool youth counselor, or a respected pastor can open up positive avenues. They will not be there when the decision has to be made, but their voices and words will be. Be a positive force in a child’s life. For it is indeed a matter of life and death. Become a mentor because MENTORS MATTER!

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