About a year ago, Ms. Chanda Burks met me in my office to discuss establishing a mentoring program for black males. Ms. Burks brought along her adolescent son Jared Michael Francis to take in the conversation. One year later, just a few days ago, I bumped into Ms. Burks at a NOLA for Life event. There, Ms. Burks informed me that her son Jared died from multiple gunshots in front of their home in the hushed neighborhood of Tall Timbers. He died September 15, 2012. He was an 18 year-old senior.
Ms. Burks told me that our past chat made a positive impression on Jared. But, deep down I knew a conversation wasn’t enough. I missed an opportunity to save a son.
I like many others have abdicated our community responsibilities to teachers, community based organizations and City Hall. To a fault, we’ve placed undue responsibilities on police and prisons to restore order. Given the magnitude of our community problems, everyday citizens must unlearn how we made disengagement an acceptable behavior.
The overwhelming statistics demand intimate and intrusive engagement that rises above fleeting conversations. But they’re reasons why we don’t get close enough to embrace a young man or woman. We’re scared. The annual murder counts are more than alarming. Murder creates an environment of fear that facilitates a hands-free ethic of care. We’ve become what I often refer to as arms-length advocates.
Arms-length advocacy can’t replace the strong hugs our children actually need. We can’t let fear or disengagement deny ourselves opportunities to prevent the unnecessary loss of yet another Jared. Ms. Burks and I simply can’t let another opportunity pass.
Each year for my birthday (October 12) I try to give back. My birthday always seemed like the perfect date to give back. This year I asked Ms. Chandra Burks if we could become mentors and direct our friends to deeper mentoring opportunities. She agreed. Over the next week we are directing people to the New Orleans Kids Partnership Mentor and Tutor sign-up program at http://www.nokp.org/mentortutor/.
New Orleans Kids Partnership has coordinated a variety of proven mentoring programs across the Greater New Orleans region. NOKP made it very convenient for anyone to choose an organization that fits our busy schedules. They also provide training and guidance on how to mentor. We can’t assume that everyone can serve as a role model. Many “mentors” need mentoring. Nevertheless, NOKP and its partners make youth engagement a safe and organized process.
When you sign up, please indicate in the appropriate section that you heard about NOKP’s mentoring program through Ms. Chandra Burks.
As Ms. Burks and I meandered through our discussion, she could not keep straight the number of children she currently had. She would say, “My three…I mean my two children.” Hopefully, we will soon begin losing track of how many sons we have gained rather than from how many we have lost. Become a mentor or a tutor today.
Andre Perry, Ph.D. (twitter: @andreperrynola) is Associate Director for Educational Initiatives for Loyola University New Orleans and author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City.