How many of us can look back at one or two older men who shaped our lives forever?
Knowing my readership, most of you can immediately point to your father and perhaps a special teacher or Scout leader. We are not born with values; we must acquire them.
And in a perfect world, your dad would often be enough. But of course we don’t live in a perfect world. I lost my father when I was just 8 years old. He had a bad heart, and one day my mother broke the news he wasn’t coming home again.
That is hard for a little boy to wrap his mind around. Things like that didn’t happen in my world. I didn’t know a boy who was fatherless. Suddenly I was someone separate. Of course they told my classmates at school, but when we moved back to my mother’s hometown in Georgia, I suddenly had to make knew friends.
Inevitably, a playmate would say, “What does your daddy do?” And every time, I knew with my reply I would become an outsider. Everything between me and my new friend took on a different quality, at least in my eyes.
This was in the days when divorce was rare. I can’t remember a divorced family in my clique at school. Mostly that was something movie stars did – with regularity.
Today, young boys are always facing a bewilderingly complicated world without a male role model. I was fortunate. When we moved back to Georgia, I had two strong uncles who kept me on the straight and narrow for the most part. Certainly, I clearly knew the boundaries and what was expected of me.
Today, we see more and more kids without fathers in their lives. Divorce is commonplace, and often it is complicated for the dad to remain a presence in their children’s lives. Remarriage is common and new families get started.
Add to that the lure of drugs in our community. No, it is not just in other towns, in other schools, in other subdivisions or in other homes.
No, it is right here, right now, in your face. And if you are 14 and you are trying desperately to fit in with the crowd, it is hard to hear a contrary voice telling you what the boundaries are and what is acceptable.
I was graciously invited to the 100 Black Men of North Metro Inc.’s annual Youth Achievement Luncheon by Dwight Kelly, the outgoing president. As you might deduce from my over-long intro, 100 Black Men, an organization comprised of men from North Fulton, Cobb and Gwinnett counties, is all about mentoring young men in their community.
Their corporate sponsorship was impressive, no doubt spurred by the many of the mentors’ connections to the companies that were so generous. The keynote speaker was state Sen. Emmanuel Jones according to the program. But it was wrong.
Jones gave a history of his life as a businessman who had done well taking over bankrupt car dealerships and turning them into thriving businesses again. And as one to whom much had been given, he wanted to give back as a mentor.
He was made aware of a young man’s plight and felt an injustice had been done. As it happened, I knew the story. Genarlow Wilson was all of 17 when he became involved with a 15-year-old girl one New Year’s Eve. He was sentenced to 10 years for aggravated child molestation. Then the senator introduced Genarlow to the audience.
To my mind, this young man was the keynote speaker. Genarlow admitted his actions that night were not right. But he balked at pleading guilty to a crime that would haunt him forever. So he declined a plea deal that would have had him out in two years.
Jones met Genarlow, took up his case and eventually won Genarlow’s release two years later. But that was not the end of the story. Jones remained in the boy’s life. With the help and guidance of Jones, Genarlow did not get out a bitter person. Instead, he began to work for a new life.
At the luncheon, the young man told his story. He completed his high school education and enrolled in Georgia State University. He will graduate this semester. Then he apologized for having to leave right away. He had to get to his job with the DeKalb Sheriff’s Office.
Twenty mentees were introduced at the luncheon. None had the dramatic story Genarlow did. These were 20 young men who were under the 100 Black Men’s guidance, most for several years. They were all seniors in high school and all graduating this semester.
As they came forward, one had a job waiting for him after he gets his diploma. The other 19 were going to college in the fall.
That is the power of mentorship – be it in Scouting, coaching, teaching or just taking a boy fishing. Think about that the next time you go off to play golf or go for a run. Whose life are you going to change today?