“I’m afraid I’m losing my son.”
This is what a distraught mother told me when she first called late one September evening.
This was not the first time I had received such calls. She proceeded to tell me that her son Jameel was 16, was barely passing most of his classes, was distant at home, seemed to be depressed and didn’t have good friends. She had heard about the mentoring program and asked if would be possible to bring him.
I told her that everyone was welcome, and to bring him to our regular group meeting.
Building a Relationship
When he arrived, it was clear he didn’t want to be there. He was sullen and answered any questions in the fewest words possible. He sat back away from the group and despite several attempts to engage him in conversation, he did not connect. The next week when he came back, it was much the same.
His mother called me a couple days after to say that her son didn’t like it and didn’t want to return. I explained that there is no magic bullet and it takes time to build relationships. I told her to see if her son would make a deal with her – that he would come every week until the end of the year, and if he still didn’t like the program, he could quit, and his mother wouldn’t bother him again about it. He agreed.
The Turning Point
Over the next three months, he slowly warmed up and began to engage. He was assigned a mentor who spent individual time with him each week. Jameel became more comfortable with the group and seemed to be doing alright.
I waited expectantly during our first meeting in January, and was happily surprised, that not only did Jameel return, but he brought his 14 year old brother with him. Three months later, he brought his 12 year old cousin. He continued to increase his level of participation both with his mentor and the other youth and their mentors. They continued with the program through high school.
A Larger Impact
Although many would consider that to be a success, the larger impact was only understood when I had a conversation with him the summer after he graduated. He shared with me that he had been in a depression for a while before he joined. He didn’t have much of any relationship with his father, and his mother had remarried and he didn’t get along so well with his step father. He didn’t have any examples in his life of positive, successful, African-American males.
His grades were terrible, and he knew that his friends were bad influences and were engaged in very problematic behaviors. He also was wrestling with anxiety issues and they were complicated by starting this new program.
The positive building relationships he built with his mentor, the other youth, the other mentors and adults we brought through the program modeled for him the possibilities as well as method of having those types of relationships in his life. Positive, successful African American mentors and professionals in the program also opened his mind and heart to new possibilities for himself.
He said that by his senior year in high school he had completely changed out his friends and his grades had risen to all A’s and B’s. Furthermore, his anxiety disappeared and he was able to sleep well at night. And he applied to and was accepted into nursing school.