by Jemar T. Ward, President of the New York Urban League Young Professionals
Happy Spring! I’m really hoping that last week will be the last time we see a temperature under 40 degrees for a long time!
I’m writing to you to discuss a topic that I’m deeply passionate about….MENTORSHIP. Mentoring is key to ensuring the success of young African American men in circumstances where the odds remain substantial. At the very least, mentorship demonstrates to a child that someone cares about them. In view of the considerable odds that remain to be negotiated in the lives of young men of color, mentoring may be the most important factor in helping these young men to succeed.
As a mentor in many programs, including NYUL’s Scholar Connect, iMentor, and One Hundred Black Men, I can personally tell you that the experience of mentorship is extremely rewarding. My first mentee in the Scholar Connect is graduating from Stony Brook University in May. I was also invited to see my first mentee from iMentor graduate from Bronx Prep Academy. There is something intangibly rewarding and satisfying in knowing that he acknowledges and attributes his ability to graduate on time due to me holding him accountable, being his champion and never allowing quitting to be an option. That alone, is worth it. Perhaps, besides seeing your own children overcome, there are few greater joys than seeing someone you invested time, talent and interest in succeed. To further the case for mentorship, consider the following statistics:
- By the time they hit fourth grade, 86 percent of African American boys and 82 percent Hispanic boys are reading below proficiency levels — compared to 54 percent of white fourth graders reading below proficiency levels.
- African American and Hispanic young men are more than six times as likely to be victims of murder than their white peers — and account for almost half of the country’s murder victims each year.
Taken from www.whitehouse.gov/my-brothers-keeper
My personal stories perhaps are only so convincing. I however believe that stories like mine, and possibly yours, are contained in the following message from President Obama, “There are a lot of kids out there who need help, who are getting a lot of negative reinforcement. And is there more that we can do to give them the sense that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them?”
When I learned of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Initiative, it excited me. Finally, a national program with many stakeholders designed to help young men of color succeed. My Brother’s Keeper is a new initiative for young men of color who are willing to hard work to get ahead. For decades, opportunity has lagged behind for boys and young men of color. Across the country, communities are adopting approaches to help put these young men on the path to success. The President wants to build on that work. We can learn from communities that are partnering with local businesses and foundations to connect these young men to mentoring, support networks, and skills they need to find a good job or go to college and work their way up into the middle class. Initiatives like these and Mentorship programs like the ones I have mentioned need strong mentors to step up.
A famous line from Nino Brown in the film ‘New Jack City’ is, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”…Yes, I am. Are you?
Yours in the Movement,
Jemar T. Ward | NYULYP President