Wednesday, April 28, 2010

‘Man-ters’ Versus Mentors

‘Man-ters’ Versus Mentors

Modern mentoring programs, for the most part, are well intended, and occasionally effective. Amid all the noise from groups and individuals who claim to be mentoring, the results continue to be shallow and isolated at best, and manipulative at a more realistic and sinister level. There are approximately six million African-American (urban) youngsters in the U.S., aged 12 to 21. Current mentoring efforts touch most of these children in some distant way, mostly as a resource, but the actual number of effective mentor-mentee “connections” is miniscule, perhaps 10 percent.

Part of the reason for this shortcoming, and the central problem we face, is the inherent disconnect in the way mentors are recruited, screened, trained, and assigned to a mentee. Another part of what’s missing is the direct connection between the man and the boy, in terms of direction and purpose, where “real” men can immediately share what they know… right here, and right now. To quote one of my earlier editorials in the Tri-State Defender newspaper, “Real men have jobs, homes, families, responsibilities, and passions for life. Real men are confident in their persons, and in their abilities. They’re usually busy most of the time, but that’s what maintains those homes and families and passions.” These types of men have some time to share, but none to waste. I call them “Man-ters.”

Traditional “mentors” are recruited and given orientation to a variety of vague concepts concerning behaviors and responses of young boys. Too often, the facilitators are untrained, good-hearted souls who are in over their heads. God bless them one-and-all, those who would share time and attention with misguided urban teens. All of us should mentor or “coach” the young people around us, and volunteer a few hours to share some new ideas, skills and tasks with children who have never really learned to seek self-improvement. “Man-ters” are in a position to help fill this void, but they don’t have a lot of time for six-hour training sessions, before they ever see a child.

We need men to share their knowledge of chivalry and class with young boys. We need men to show them how to check or even change the oil on a car, or replace a kitchen floor tile for an elderly relative, or mix a bucket of concrete for a small home repair. Real men have time to share this kind of hands-on knowledge with boys, but they don’t have a lot of time for philosophical meetings that “explore the possibilities” for growth of a young boy. Real men want to show up, meet the boys, get to work, see some progress, and leave all of the psycho-social aspects to counselors, preachers and parents. “Man-ters” offer encouragement to the young men as they leave, headed back to their families and to their busy lives. These men return to their homes and careers with a small sense of accomplishment, and will very likely return to “Man-ter” again, if they can comprehend what we’re doing here.

Finally, the concept of “Man-ter” versus Mentor is aimed at a healthy exercise in placing critical resources where they’re needed most, and not squandering the human capital that is needed now to train (or re-train) urban boys. I personally favor “team-mentoring” in nearly all cases, with several men and several boys assembling for skills development and task-completion. One-on-one mentoring (or coaching) is tough stuff. Mentors are not psychiatrists, and the boys who really need the help, don’t really make for very good patients. But the group concept is measurably more effective, and as common as the “Boy Scout” model or the “Pop Warner” football team operated by volunteer-coaches from the neighborhood.

“Man-ters” are real men who have time to share, but none to waste. We need millions of them to step forward, and offer what they have to local churches and schools. We need a million dollars, and a million mentors, but what we need most is for every man to stand up for his community, and be a “Man-ter” to every boy who needs it.

(Anthony Nichelson is program director for the Citadel Radio Group and founder of the 110 Institute. 

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