Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Decide to help a child, black men
Read Shanna's blog
Shanna Flowers is The Roanoke Times' metro columnist.
The time is right for Roanoke's black men to step up.
On the heels of last week's youth summit, and after an experience I had recently with a little boy, I'm making a special plea to black men to be a part of the citywide effort to reclaim and engage a generation of young people who need and crave their time.
In all corners of Roanoke, community centers and private and public programs and organizations are looking for volunteers of all races and genders to help fill a void in children's lives.
But when I speak informally with the heads of some of these organizations, they lament, in particular, the dearth of black men willing to share their time as well as their wisdom with a child, who otherwise might not have a positive male figure in his or her life.
In an era when countless reports portray the unraveling of young black men, these children need people in their lives who can steer them straight and be examples of someone to emulate.
Black men, you're in demand -- and not because of what we want from you, but because of what we know you can share with the city's children.
But don't take my word for it.
"So many of our children are lacking a male role model," said Kaye Hale, executive director of the West End Center. "It's across the board, but particularly in the African-American community."
Hale said her organization serves about 140 youngsters. She has about 15 mentors -- and none is a minority. Most of the children at the center are black.
"We've just had a hard time securing mentors -- period. The icing on the cake would be minority mentors."
A few weeks ago, I spent several evenings with a little girl and her younger brother. The boy has been waiting for a male mentor -- black or white -- for nearly six months.
We attended vacation Bible school for three nights. Each night before I took the children home, we took little side trips to such places as the Mill Mountain Star or an ice cream parlor.
The last night, the little boy, who can't always quite remember my name asked me, "Big Sister, can you be my big sister?"
His sincerity and his longing pierced my heart.
Last Thursday, 261 people gathered at the Roanoke Civic Center to get young people's advice on ways the city could provide opportunities for them.
Everyone was buoyed by the turnout, and the momentum was high. But the momentum shouldn't end there.
To be successful, this citywide effort to connect with Roanoke's young people needs sustained momentum -- and it needs, among others, black men.
The demand is there.
Shanna Flowers' column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.