November 4, 2008 and January 20, 2009 are days that will forever be remembered as moments that redefined the meaning of manhood and perseverance. One man’s vision changed the image and perception of every man. That vision was also an instrumental step toward changing images and perceptions for every man. Men who were previously mired in defeat now begin to feel motivated and inspired. Young men who had already begun to feel hopeless and worthless were instantly empowered with new inner strength. Supporters and non-supporters alike cannot deny the impact of President Obama’s election and inauguration (1st and 2nd). His persistence is electrifying and empowering.
Following the November elections, young men and little boys walked a little bit taller and felt a whole lot better about themselves. Having witnessed this phenomenon, my mind drifted to the millions of little boys and young men whose present circumstances would be vastly different if there had been a prolific male figure in their lives – not a larger than life face delivering speeches on a TV screen, but an actual “shake your hand on Sunday morning” type of presence; an “ask you how you did on your math test” type of presence.
In writing this article, I know that I may be viewed as self-serving or pushing a personal agenda, but who cares?!? I am much more concerned with the state of young America than I am concerned with how people may perceive my intent.
Men who lead or mentor young men serve benefits that far outweigh or outlast the present day. Untold benefits are reaped by simply caring enough to know the names of the young men who live on your street, or those who sit on your pew. Why not attempt to get to know and mentor the male son(s) of your single mother friends or co-workers. Just to clarify, I’m not suggesting that men should adopt or “take-in” every boy who looks lost or acts a little different.
What I am suggesting is that a phone call from or meaningful conversation with a respectable male adult consistently over time will build respect and admiration. Through that respect and admiration a mental model of manhood and adulthood gets formed. Young men very often model the behavior of adults who either possess the things young men desire or who have achieved the things young men aspire to accomplish. Unfortunately, over the last decade or so, those “heroes” or “role models” have been people who are untouchable and unreachable. Our young men chase ghosts and images. They attempt to emulate characters and personas who live in a world that is so extraordinarily unlike the real world that envelopes anybody (young or old) not confident in their own ability or unsure of their own identity.
To the young men reading this article, I cannot help but to stress that real role models may never appear on an episode of The Bachelor or may never headline a feature film. They may never win a Grammy award or sell 1 million copies of anything. But, real role models will show up at your football game or soccer match. Real role models know that there is a girl in your third period class that you are absolutely crazy about, but have yet to approach. Real role models will teach you how to fix a flat tire, tell you to open doors and pull out chairs for ladies and help you to pick the best college for you. Role models and mentors are valuable resources. They very often see in us, what we are unable to see in ourselves. The guidance and direction that a mentor provides may be the difference in enrolling in an educational institution or serving time in a correctional institution.
To the men reading this article, to you I feel the need to stress the magnitude of what is at stake. Every year, millions of young men make tremendous thinking errors and commit mistakes that cost them their future. It is absolutely tragic to imagine that at 16 or 17 years old, you believe that the best of your life is now and the rest of your life is downhill. Without knowing that there are options, young people make decisions based on the few options that they believe are available. To mentor or influence a young man is to make him aware of all that the world has to offer. It does not mean that you have to GIVE him the world. In Education, there is a proverb that reads, “Students don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you Care!” That statement is especially true when attempting to mentor young men. There will be culture clashes. There will be differences of opinions. There will be ideological incongruence. The final destination of Manhood is of considerably greater importance than any “traffic mishap” experienced along the way.
I implore every reader to take a casual look at the boys and young men you interact with this week. At a glance, it becomes painfully obvious that many men in our society have forfeited their roles of father, daddy, uncle and grandpa. We have instead traded in those roles for that of homey, friend, dawg and that unfamiliar role where kids call their dad by his first name. As men, we have been given an uncomfortable role and extremely high expectation. The family is built on our shoulders. Let every man examine his own heart and think back to his own past. Remember the men who were involved in your life that helped you become the man you are today. Or, remember the men who never gave you the time of day and left you to become the man that you wish you were not.
A new year is upon us. A new day is dawning and the need for strong, intelligent men is ever-increasing. To every k4 – 5th grader I ask, who are the men you most admire and want to be like? To every 6th – 12th grader I ask, what are you doing right now to help you get to where you want to be? To every man out of high school I ask, in your race to achieve Manhood, to whom have you extended an uplifting hand?
Be Young! Have Fun!