Monday, October 15, 2007

Bill Cosby on "Meet the Press"

Yesterday, as part of my usual Sunday morning routine of breakfast, the Chicago Tribune, and Meet the Press, I happened to catch Bill Cosby and Harvard Medical School Psychiatry Professor, Allen Poussaint discussing their new book "Come on People: On the Path from Victims to Victors." The book discusses many issues within the black community including single mothers, incarceration rates, high school dropouts, and the use of the n-word. Not afraid of causing controversy, Cosby and Poussaint write about the need for activism against "the crumbling of the family" and the fight against inertia within the black community. I highly recommend watching the interview or reading the transcript of the interview.

While Cosby and Poussaint touch on many important issues in a very eloquent way, there are two things that I believe are especially relevant to the tutor-mentor realm. The first is the need for role-models - especially male role-models. Cosby and Poussaint cite stepfathers, grandfathers, godfathers and uncles stepping into the role of a male role-model in the absence of a father. I would also like to add mentor to this list, and indeed Cosby and Poussaint do cite several tutor/mentor organizations as ways the black community is fighting back, including Boys & Girls Clubs, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and 100 Black Men. I can speak from observation and experience that male mentors have huge impact on the young African-American males who participate in our program. In our most successful cases, we have relationships where the mentor takes the student out to sports games, meals and on trips to visit colleges. However, one thing that I have noticed is that while we have several African-American women who are acting as tutor/mentors, we have no African-American males who are fulfilling this role. My hope is that down the road, this is no longer the case and that the young men in our organization not only would just have male role-models, but African-American male role-models who can lead by example and who that there are many ways to be successful and to give back.

The second point that Cosby and Poussaint make, that I would like to highlight is the idea of the "love-giver." I've discussed before, in my entry on charter schools, that children growing up in poverty hear many more words of discouragement than encouragement. This goes into the idea of caregiver as opposed to love-giver. According to Cosby and Poussaint, in order for children to succeed in life, they need to be given love, rather than just cared for. In the absence of a positive love-giver at home, I think that tutor/mentors need to stand up and fulfill this role of being a love-giver to these children, in encouraging them and making them feel special.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Blogging and Social Networking

I've written before how important I think blogging and social networking (especially with websites such as facebook and myspace) can be in spreading a message. Eric Kintz, in the Digital Mindset Blog writes about how blogs become viral networks which spread in ways far superior to word of mouth. It's a very interesting article and touches on a lot of ways we're trying to promote the message of tutoring and mentoring.
I also recommend, visiting the Links Library on our Tutor/Mentor Connection website, which has a lot of valuable resources on everything ranging from philanthropy to preventing kids from dropping out of school.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Newark Mayor advocates tutoring and mentoring by being a mentor

I often look through the education section of the New York Times because they frequently have articles that discuss issues that are pertinent to what I'm doing in advocating tutoring and mentoring. Yesterday, the feature story on the New York Times webpage was about how Newark's mayor, Cory Booker, has become a mentor to three young African-American men who have all had brushes with the law and who come from some of Newarks' roughest area. Mr. Booker, an African-American himself, has found it hasn't always been easy being a mentor and sometimes there is only so much he can do to help out these young men. The article is fantastic, it emphasizes the incredible need for mentors for underprivileged youth and the realities that come to mentors. I think that Mr. Booker hits the nail on the head when he states, "There’s no reason that programs like Big Brothers and Big Sisters should have dozens of kids waiting for mentors."

As always, I try and relate what we are doing here at Cabrini Connections to what the article talks about. For this article, the fact that there are simply not enough mentors volunteering hits home for us. The past two Thursday nights, we have had to watch over 20 extra students who we have not been able to match with tutors. A lot of these students do not bring homework, are rowdy, and some have even gotten in to fights. The last straw came this past Thursday when some young men who are not in the program came in and wanted to start trouble. After we told them to leave, word got out that they were looking to jump some of our kids after our program was done. We quickly had to mobilize, calling the cops, and having the volunteers man the doors and make sure all the kids had a way of getting home safely. Not only was this scary for a lot of the kids, but I'm sure that it was very scary for a lot of the volunteers as well and I hope this incident did not scare them away.

The sad thing is that a lot of our students who do not have mentors because they do not bring homework, are difficult, pick fights, etc. are the ones who need mentors the most. Another sad thing is that those young men who came in wanting to jump some of our students as they left could've probably all used mentors when they were younger, but now it may be too late. In fact, Mayor Booker became acquainted with the young men he is not mentoring because they were arrested for spray painting "Kill Booker" on a school that none of them attended. Two of the young men became Mr. Booker's mentees, but one of them, at 13 the youngest, was described as being "incorrigeable."It absolutely saddens me to think that there are children who are, at the age of 13 incorrigeable, because I would like to believe that every child should have a chance to be a good person and not written off.

My only response to the fact that there are some kids who are incorrigeable is that there needs to be more tutoring and mentoring programs targeting younger kids so that they are able to be helped out earlier. This past weekend, I helped out at a conference at Fourth Presbyterian Church for tutor/mentors in programs in the Cabrini Green area. There are two wonderful programs catering to elementary schoolers in the Cabrini Green area, Cabrini Green Tutoring and Chicago Lights at Fourth Presbyterian Church. However, in a lot of low-income, high poverty areas, there aren't programs and more need to be created. Perhaps Mayor Booker can lead a campaign to start tutor/mentor programs starting in the first grade so that there will be no more 13-year-olds who are considered "incorrigeable."