Local march supports need for Black role models

Activist highlights importance of positive mentors for youth of color

By Jamal Denman

Contributing Writer 

 

Participants of March for Men Mentoring at Southside Village Boys & Girls Club, Thursday, July 26
Photo by Jamal Demman

On Thursday, July 26, various members of the community concerned about the well-being of young people convened at the Southside Village Boys & Girls Club to take part in March for Men Mentoring. This event was intended to bring attention and awareness to the importance of adults — specifically men of color — involved in mentoring young people.

About 20 people gathered to show their support by marching around the large 39th Street block between Chicago and Park avenues, where the club’s facilities and Phelps Park are located. The event also people an opportunity to meet and socialize with each other, discuss the benefits and challenges one faces as a mentor, and the effects it can have on the lives of those being mentored, as well as the mentors themselves.

After finishing the march, the participants met in the Boys & Girls Club cafeteria to enjoy a meal, socialize, and discuss the various aspects of being a mentor. People from all walks of life who care about the youth and do what they can to increase their chances of having successful futures, including Terrell Woods, who is also known as the human percussionist (referred to many as “human beat boxing”), and hip hop recording artist Carnage the Executioner, took time out of their busy schedules to take part in the march.

Woods, who is slated to go on tour overseas later this year, says that out of all the opportunities being a performer affords him, being able to connect with the youth through his art and having an impact on their lives is the “most rewarding.” During the event, Woods expressed his desire to come back to the Boys & Girls Club to speak and interact with the young people that frequent the facility.

The evening’s activities were put together by Boys & Girls Club Mentor Coordinator Brian Kelley, who has been working with and implementing programs for youth for the past 10 years. Even with having to cope with very serious personal situations over the years, including the tragic loss of a son and the dissolution of a marriage, Kelley recognizes the importance of the work he does and enthusiastically goes about the task of providing positive leadership to young people in the community.

For nine years he ran an organization called All About Family, a Twin Cities-based organization focused on providing support and resources for families dealing with adverse circumstances. “In going through a divorce and having lost a child, I understood the importance of building and strengthening families,” said Kelley. This type of personal connection is what separates Kelley from your average community service worker.

According to Kelley, the goal of the March for Men Mentoring event was “to get men involved in mentoring here at the Boys & Girls Club, but to [also] bring awareness to the fact that there is a need [for mentors].” The need is especially great for those who have the ability to understand and relate to young boys of color, who face unique challenges growing up in the United States.

One of those challenges include making decisions based on economics, which causes some young people to make the dangerous choice of getting involved in illegal activities. For African American, Latino and Native American men, the numbers of those incarcerated is disproportionately high. This is why Kelley is also committed to showing the youth other options — without the risk of imprisonment — for them to earn income through a young entrepreneurial program.

Even with the large numbers of African American, Latino, and Native American men caught up in the penal system, there are still plenty of men of color that would make for good mentors and who can have a positive impact on a young persons life. Unfortunately, the number of non-White male mentors is relatively low, and one wonders why more of them are not becoming mentors, especially since there is such an obvious need.

Kelley believes there are many factors that play a part in those hesitating to becoming a mentor, such as time. “I think people want to help, [but] they don’t know how and where to help. So I think bringing the awareness to where and how they help is a value,” Kelley opined.

He plans on continuing to bring awareness to the community by holding events similar to March for Men Mentoring every month. Kelley is looking for adults 18 and up with a positive attitude to get involved.

 

For more information on mentoring opportunities, contact Brian Kelley at 612-290-2860 or bkelley@boysandgirls.org.

Jamal Denman welcomes reader responses to heydjmal@gmail.com.