Six years after I first heard them, the statistics still haunt me: 86 percent of Black children in the fourth grade read and do math below their grade level. Black girls between the ages of 15 and 24 represent the greatest number of new HIV infections. Homicide is the leading cause of death for our boys.
The village is on fire! And our love is the saving, healing water that legions of our children are literally dying for. When we listen we hear their cries rising above the flames. Their voices carry the incendiary pain and humiliation of intergenerational poverty that turns dreams to ashes: days of missed meals, uncertain safety and poorly resourced schools that plenish the pipeline to prison.
Attorney General Eric Holder charged a national task force with investigating how exposure to violence impacts children. I attended his Dec. 14 meeting at which the culminating findings in the Defending Childhood report were delivered.
The violence that children of this nation are subjected to in their homes and communities and glamorized in the media is relentless and chilling. Expert after expert cautioned that exposure to violence traumatizes children and that, unresolved, those traumas easily lead to deep depression and dysfunctional behaviors.
These socially disruptive behaviors — our young people’s cries for help — lead the nightly news from coast to coast, rousing shame and anxiety. We hold our collective breath and pray, “Lord, don’t let the crazed one be one of us.’’ But the question that is never asked and answered is why are these young people acting out? What I have come to know in my personal and professional life is this: Understanding the cause of our pain and taking action to address it are crucial to our healing.
With understanding and action, we heal, grow and thrive in profound ways. Held up proudly, nurtured and supported, we have in past generations succeeded despite the often-dire economic circumstances, troubled families and traumas that many of us endured coming of age. Who among us isn’t carrying some hurt or depression or self-sabotaging habit we yet need to break?
We are a remarkable species, living at an extraordinary time in history, a marvel of creation, human and divine. Love is the divine aspect of our being. It is restorative and healing and elevates everything it touches. That’s the promise.
Love, God, Jehovah, Yahweh, Allah—call it what you will. Originating Spirit gave birth to all existence. It’s the energy that governs and balances all in creation, every cell in every living thing. It is the unchanging, unfailing, eternal aspect of our being.
Love is answer
Spiritual awareness inspires the love, walk-on-water faith, courage and creativity needed to heal everything within us and around us, including the damage done to our people over the seas and centuries. With love and caring we can create the beautiful future we want.
Among my baby-boomer peers are real-world exemplars of the good that is possible when a generation cares and acts out of love: We build schools and cultural institutions, develop businesses, write great books, compose great music and create dances that elevate the spirit.
The generation that inspired me––that inspired the creation of Essence and the building of other Black institutions––stopped a war, moved young people out of gangs and into breakfast programs that often gave school children the only nutritious meal they had each day.
Least of these
While there are no people on earth more kind, caring and creative than us Black folks, a certain world-weariness has crept into our days. As a group, we able African-Americans have half-stepped around our moral responsibility to care for “the least of these.”
We say that God is love. But love is a verb. It requires us to do something, to actively care for ourselves and serve one another from the overflow.
Our children cannot continue to die outside the temple doors while we “praise His holy name” within. We are all here on assignment. We honor God when caring for our vulnerable young. Hands that serve are holier than lips that pray.
We can learn to work together better; choose healthier, life-sustaining behaviors; fill our hearts with love and gratitude and do this work that is ours to do. We can reclaim and secure the young lives we abandoned and rebuild the village. And we can do it well by mentoring.
Mentoring works miracles
Mentoring – a low-cost, high-returns solution – works miracles. In the tradition of our ancestors, whether we are rich or poor, formally educated or not, and though none of our lives is perfect, we can provide a protective shield for the children.
Done well and consistently, mentoring changes even the most challenged young lives. But when the call goes out for mentors, White women and men are the first respondents. Black women and men too often are not in the mix, while the wait lists at youth-serving organizations continue to swell with Black children, the vast majority of them our beautiful boys, waiting.
The National CARES Mentoring Movement, founded as Essence CARES in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, is committed to changing this in the now time! Before we began our work, there was no national infrastructure in place to engage desperately needed Black men and women volunteers.
Operating in nearly 60 U.S. cities under the leadership of devoted volunteer community leaders, CARES is determined to ensure that all Black children needing guidance and role models are surrounded by a circle of caring, supportive adults who are committed to volunteering just one hour a week of their time as mentors.
This year, in more than a dozen cities, we are piloting programs with our partners that undergird our children academically, emotionally and socially.
To date, CARES has recruited more than 125,000 mentors for upwards of 135,000 children.
Caring adults needed
But it’s not enough. So I’m asking that you stand in the gap and volunteer an hour a week to help guide our young who need more caring adults in their lives. Our children losing ground need your congregation, your block association, your friends and family, they need our fraternities and sororities to take action.
We need all hands on deck, and the best way to get others to step up is to get engaged ourselves and express the joy we feel and the healing that occurs when doing God’s work.
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website, www.caresmentoring.org, to get connected with a local CARES Affiliate. You can also start a mentor-recruitment movement in your area.
Linking arms and aims, we can ensure the village that now burns will be reborn, phoenix-like, from the ashes, and that our children will soar, dreams first, into a new day.
Susan L. Taylor is the founder and CEO of National CARES Mentoring Movement. For 27 years she served as the chief editor of Essence magazine. Learn more about the programs of National CARES at www.caresmentoring.org.