I may not be alive today if not for the mentors in my life. It would have been easy for me to follow the path of destruction that several of my friends took. Violence, drug dealing, and trips to the county jail were common occurrences in my neighborhood. The lure of these influences was strong, but I’m thankful that my mentors’ influences were stronger.
My father wasn’t around and I sought approval from the older guys in the neighborhood. I admired their swagger and tough-guy attitudes. I was willing to do anything to be accepted by them even if it meant breaking the law.
One day while hanging out with some ne’er-do-wells, my friend’s dad drove by and parked a few feet away from us. Everyone respected Mr. Brown for several reasons. The main reason was that he was one of only a few fathers who was present in our neighborhood.
Mr. Brown motioned me towards his Lincoln Continental. I pretended not to see him at first, but he refused to be ignored. He called my name and told me to get over there immediately. This time I complied.
He placed his hand firmly on my shoulder, looked me in the eyes and said. “You’re too smart to be hanging out with those knuckleheads. You were created for a greater purpose. Don’t waste your potential.” I tried to act tough, but he squeezed my shoulder as if to say, “Don’t even think about challenging me.”
When he left, I returned to the group, but Mr. Brown’s words lingered in my head. Over the next few weeks, he made a point to stop and talk to me whenever he saw me. He also made sure to invite me to outings with him and his son. Because of his decision to be a positive role model in my life, I gave up my quest to fit in with the thugs, and focused on creating a better life for myself.
In college, I decided to pay-it-forward by mentoring young boys. I signed up for Big Brothers and Sisters and started meeting with my little Brother at his elementary school. After a few weeks of spending time together, we formed a strong bond. He looked forward to my visits and I was disappointed when he was absent from class. But a funny thing happened along the way. Several of the other boys in class started asking me to read to them and play with them too. Whereas I began the school year with one little brother, I ended it with at least 10.
I continue my dedication to mentoring today. Once a week, I meet with a group of middle school boys. The size of the group ranges from 1 to 10 boys on any given week, but I regularly meet with 3 to 6. Some of them have fathers in their lives, some don’t. Some are talkative, some are quiet. Their diverse personalities, backgrounds, and temperaments make our meetings interesting.
Through our conversations, I’ve helped them to cope with parent’s divorce, bullying at school, poor relationships with their siblings, and self-image issues. I also like to do fun things with the boys such as play video games, have paintball tournaments, and watch sports. But mostly, I try to be a friend who’s available to listen to their hopes, dreams, and concerns and give them words of encouragement when they need them the most.