Impactful events such as the tragic murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri consistently ignite emotionally charged discussions of racism and inequality in America. Common arguments for the causes of these tragedies point to racism and cultural issues within the Black community such as Black on Black crime and low cooperation within the Black community. As a sociologist, I attribute Black disparities in social class and status to an interconnected system of social barriers including segregation, joblessness, and limited social resources. Given the complexity of the problem there is likely no one solution to racial inequality. This is not to imply that a solution is unattainable but rather to suggest a strategy of identifying specific components of the problem and targeting each component separately to collectively reach a solution. It is my personal preference to target the component of limited social resources in the community. The purpose of this blog is to inspire activism by describing a community-based effort to increase social resources among Blacks that is currently being implemented through the MENtor Initiative (MI) in Chicago.
The MENtor Initiative is an organization designed to establish networks that foster the personal and professional development of Black men at every level through mentoring over a lifetime. When mentoring takes place over a lifetime each participant is given the opportunity to lead and to positively influence another person while simultaneously being led and positively influenced by someone more experienced than themself. For example, college students are encouraged to mentor adolescents, young professionals to mentor college students, mid career professionals to mentor young professionals, and senior professionals to mentor mid career professionals. Mentoring over a lifetime allows for the ongoing mutually beneficial exchange of skills and values pertinent to social and economic progress in the Black community.
Currently in its developmental stage, the MI is exploring ways to facilitate mentoring over a lifetime with a community-first approach. After the second MI meeting on Saturday August 23, 2014, I was inspired to embrace the community-first approach in an attempt to increase the investment and cohesion of the group. Although there was strong participation at the meeting, I feared that monthly meetings alone would not be sufficient to keep the group completely invested in the MI and mentoring over a lifetime. In response to this concern and through discussion among MI members, the organization is now working to build a community-first culture where men are constantly engaged in activities related to the well being of its members. Some activities are publicizing the strengths and interests of each community member, seeking visionary counsel on the direction of the MI from all members, and creating small groups to build bonds among members. Creating a close-knit community of men in the MI will allow for stronger mentoring relationships that are more effective in securing benefits over a lifetime.
The MI is one effort that aims to further facilitate the exchange of social resources through mentoring over a lifetime and a community-first philosophy. It targets the limited social resource component of the larger problem of racial inequality. Although the MI will not single handedly eradicate crime and the racism that fueled the unjust murder of Michael Brown, it is a significant step towards uplifting today’s generation of leaders and tomorrow’s generation of achievers. I urge all who are reading these words to become a part of the solution by joining this effort, joining other efforts, or by targeting another component of the problem!
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