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.
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