I have always been a huge fan of mentorship. I feel that everyone needs to be mentored throughout life. My life would be dramatically different had I not had different mentors in my life. Regardless of age, race or sex, we all need to be mentored. For this post, though, I am focusing on black males. Here are a few reasons why:
Blacks (I prefer to say "blacks" over "African Americans," so sue me) make up 13 percent of the United States population, yet we make up 38 percent of the prison and jail population. Meanwhile, whites make up 63 percent of the population but just 34 percent of the prison and jail population. According to a 2008 study by the Bureau of Justice, for every 100,000 blacks, there are approximate 4,777 in prison or jail. Compare that with 1,760 for Hispanics and 727 for whites.
You can do research and find similar numbers. There is much research on black males filling up prisons. I mentioned those numbers to give you insight into why this article focuses on black males. The numbers are staggering, and folks feel helpless. They see the issue, shake their heads and mumble something like "damn shame" or "we gotta get it together," after which they go on about their business -- not all but most. Too many.
Our community is hurting. We are hemorrhaging black men, and our youth are growing up without a multitude of diverse, positive male figures in their lives who offer both teaching and variety by just existing. If you read my last post about black rage, then you know that I do not like speaking in hypotheticals. I use real examples from real people's lives, mostly mine, and this will be no different. Like I said, I have had many mentors in my life, but none more special than my high school basketball coach. He will be affectionately referred to as Coach Bodipo.
In my sophomore year at Emery High School in the San Francisco Bay Area (the Oakland side of the bay), I was introduced to a lanky UC Berkeley grad who looked like he was maybe 3 years older than us. This spindly, soft-spoken guy with the funny-sounding name was to become the new basketball coach to a very lively, rowdy and aggressive group of young boys. To put it bluntly, we gave him hell. During tournaments, we pulled pranks with shaving cream and missed curfew to hang out with girls. We fought and argued during practice. During conditioning we complained and complained and complained some more. Seriously, we were a pretty intolerable group at times. We could ball, but we could also be unappreciative and stubborn, as well.
Through everything he kept showing up. He stood by us and pushed us. He was responsible. For many of us he was a big brother, an uncle and even a father at times. The investment that he made in all our lives still astonishes me today. I mean, this man was pure love, and for many of us, that was the first time we had ever experienced that. Coaching basketball came second to the manhood coaching he gave each of us. The feeling that someone was always in our corner had a profound affect on us, especially on me. We weren't cookie-cutter young folks, either; the demons that some of us faced throughout high school were very serious. There were folks dealing with pregnancies, gun violence, drugs and some other heavy stuff. No, we didn't have the problems of Wally and the Beaver. The reality for young black males can be a daunting one. I love Oakland, but it can throw some real curveballs.
In my life, Coach Bodipo's consistency is what stood out the most to me. We may have been one of the angriest and most aggressive group of boys ever. I was battle tested, and man, did Coach Bodipo and I battle! Despite how gruff we were, he kept showing up. He saw something in me that I couldn't see in myself. When I say he went above and beyond with us, I'm not exaggerating. He paid for our tournaments, bought us uniforms and fed us with his own money many nights. Most of us did not have dinner waiting at home. It's important to note that Coach didn't have that much money; one would only need to see the pickup truck he had to know what he was working with. It was perplexing to us that this man who wasn't our father or a relative was spending his own money on us. It made us feel like we were worth something.
Coach Bodipo would take us up to Lake Tahoe for an annual basketball tournament. Many of us had never experienced that type of beauty before. Lake Tahoe definitely was not Oakland. For some of us, that was our first time outside the immediate area. He showed us that the world was bigger than what we knew. It is one of my favorite places still.
Along with my grandmother, Coach Bodipo has been one of the most influential people in my life. I am who I am in large part because of who he is and what he did for 14 boys with few positive men in their lives. I've dedicated my life to working with youth because I got to witness the power of mentorship first hand. Coach Bodipo helped me believe that I could be successful in college. Coach Bodipo showed me how God could work through someone. He also helped me understand that I had a duty to do the same for others. What my grandmother started he came in and carried on. If my teammates were next to me right now, I doubt they'd disagree with anything I'm saying. He took us with all our angst and transformed us into leaders, league champions and, most importantly, men.
As black men, we have a duty to mentor. I think everyone should, but especially black men. There are so few of us. Our absence has allowed our youth to be raised by the streets and by videos. Many black youth have come to see prison as a badge of honor. We bestow more praise upon our black boys who make it out of prison than on ones who graduate from high school. Our black boys are having to figure out what manhood is from our women and on their own. People, black men, we are fighting for our black boys, and the streets never close. The streets are embracing our boys, and we are getting upset with the results from our couches. You can't win a war that way. We have a duty, and you are being called to lead, so let's get active.
Mentorship is an active cycle. I have both mentors and mentees. There is no excuse to not invest yourself into a young person. You don't need to be perfect. You don't need to be rich. Hell, you don't even need to like it. You just need to be there and be consistent. Being a mentor makes you better. You do better when you know someone is watching you -- when you are accountable to someone else.
This is a call to everyone who comes across this article. I'm calling on us all. If you're in high school, find a younger person to mentor and watch how much of a better version of you that you become. There's a new voice inside you, pushing you to be better. Become a mentee. Seek out someone who has chosen a path you want, and ask to be mentored.
We hear everyone up in arms about crime, mass shootings and dropout rates. We tweet and Facebook about all that is wrong with the world. Then we look to the government, churches, teachers or some other person who isn't us. We always place blame outward as opposed to looking inward to what more we can do. There are horrible systems that plague us; I'm not blind to them. I work diligently to improve them. I went to a subpar high school and had to struggle throughout college. I want to see those systems improve, too. However, I'm not putting the fate of my people -- the folks that I can reach -- solely in the hands of systems that we have little to no faith in. Black men, how many young people did you pass today who could have benefited from what you know? Think about it. There's probably someone walking past you now as you're reading this in a coffee shop. Stand up for these black boys who are aimlessly transforming into men in age only. We have folks stuck in this purgatory of sorts, left to their own devices to figure out what manhood is with no guidance, and we wonder why the outcomes are the way they are. You may fail; not everyone will want your help. So? That doesn't mean to stop. Again, that's not how wars are won. It starts with you and one other person. Who knows? In 13 years he may be writing about how you saved his life.