We are in an interesting season of social and political action. This is our moment to push this movement to the next level and beyond. This is our season to elevate the status of black men and boys. Back home in Philadelphia the National Urban League is meeting. One of the speakers at this conference is the mother of Trayvon Martin. A month from now tens of thousands will gather in Washington DC to push for change in laws. All of these things are important but I think much of it lets us off the hook too easily. A meeting here or a protest there is not going to get us where we need to be. It will make us feel good, but what we need is a continuous set of action steps to help our children achieve their full potential.
We are all potentially Trayvon Martin. We have all had our utter disrespect moment, not as tragic as Trayvon Martin, but we have all had them. But those moments have made us stronger and the adults in our lives made the difference. I know that because I would not be standing here had some adults not believed in me, supported me, and mentored me. But too often some of us have substituted tables of tens in banquet halls for a series of action steps needed to redirect the lives of our children. Somehow some think that being in the right place with the right crowd will get us where we need to be. It will not.
From the day I left college in 1961 until now, I have seen the value of one to one relationships. I have seen ordinary young men blossom and do extraordinary things with their lives because of relationships — Indeed I am exhibit number one. So, it is not surprising that 13 years ago after serving in public office for 24 years at the local, state, and federal levels, I chose to devote my final years in an area of mentoring that gave me extraordinary opportunities to serve. So I started the Amachi Program.
By all measures Amachi has been a successful program, but that’s not enough – more needs to be done! And we are the ones to do it.
- We must keep in front of the nation the plight of our black men and boys. Everywhere we go, we must remind our audience that our black men and boys are at risk. I do not preach a sermon or make a speech unless I remind my audience that we must do more for our children. And, I often do it with the stories like the one related to me by a former teacher in Philadelphia. Most people don’t know what we know. They need to be told. We must be the messengers. We have to sound the alarm. We must shout it from the mountain top that our black men and boys need a community of elders who will love them, teach them, protect them and defend them. Our children must be our top priority. We are too passive about all of this. There is an urgency of now for our children especially our black boys. We must do what is necessary now or suffer the consequences for decades.
- We need to ensure that all of the programs are evidence based. We should not do programs that we are not certain of the outcome for our black boys. We are in this game to help them, not to create jobs for ourselves. If we don’t know how to do the work and are unwilling to be taught, we should get out of the game. If we don’t know if black men and boys are being helped, we should find out. It is critical to enforce standards for our work. It is critical to find out whether the work we do is helping children. I have worked with more than 1,000 mentoring groups over the past 13 years and for the most part they do good work, but there are too many who are putting our children at further risk by the sloppy nature of their work. I have closed down programs because I will not permit anyone to place children at further risk on my watch. If we take money to help our children, especially black boys, we should help them or give the money back.
- Our government and private sector leaders need to hear from us. They need to know our narrative. They need to know our stories. We need to tell them about children. We need to let them know we need their help. I know that some will never help us, but there are some who will if we present our case to them. Tell them that what we do makes the education system better because children improve their grades and graduate high school. We are in the education business.
- Let’s tell them that we are in the crime prevention business. Our children we mentor commit fewer crimes. We reduce the cost of incarceration because we have redirected lives. Tell them that we save them money and if they invest money in us, we will multiply the return on their investment.
Let’s tell them that we are an economic development engine. Our children graduate high school, go to college and contribute to the economic development of our cities, states and the nation. Yes, we are more than mentoring programs — we are a critical part of the fabric of this nation. But, unless we tell our stories, they will never know. I am convinced that if we tell our stories, we will get great responses.
Well, what’s next? Folks I think we are on to something. What happens next is in our hands. In the last year I have had half a dozen contacts with the White House around mentoring. I believe that there is openness to mentoring as the critical key issue to so many problems facing the Nation. But, we have to do the heavy lifting. We have to get our act together, however, not as individually funded programs. We have to stop merely competing for funds and come together as a potent force. We have to tell our stories. Present our narratives. We have to keep our public and private sectors informed and challenged. We do too much talking to one another and not enough talking to those who can become our partners in this journey.
Thirty years ago when I ran for Mayor of Philadelphia, I would challenge the people as I have challenged you and then I would close by asking them to join me in this crusade to save the city. I ask that you join me in the crusade to save our black men and boys. My question then was as it is now, Will you help me? Will you help build support for our children? This is our moment. This is our time. They are not going to do it. We have to do it. Are you ready to rumble? Will you help?