I recently attended a funeral of a 24 year old talented, fun-loving young man from Detroit. The grief in the packed funeral home was heavy and thick. He was killed by his girlfriend. She stabbed him because he wanted to break up with her. Wow. I just could not wrap my arms around that idea. Everyone attached to the situation was trying to understand what they could have done to help. They felt like they were to blame for some reason. The owner of the foster care transitional home where she lived spoke at the funeral, asking for peace from the family. He was apologizing as if somehow her actions were his fault. It wasn’t his fault. I learned more about the young woman that killed him. She lived in and out of foster care homes for most of her life and now she was in a transitional home for youth aging out of the “system”. Everyone was always leaving her. Taking another person’s life and forever changing the trajectory of your own tells me she was desperate, scared and hopeless.
It saddens me to think that our youth are living in such desperation, seemingly unaware of options for achieving success in life. I hear people say it “takes a village” to raise a child. But who is in the village? A friend of Big Brothers Big Sisters, Shawn Blanchard, a graduate of U of M, mayoral appointee and motivational speaker has written a book called “How ‘Bout That for a Crack Baby”. In talking with Shawn he openly shares that his childhood village consisted of his addicted mother who taught him to steal at a young age and brothers who ended up in prison or dead. But also in Shawn’s village were a few adult mentors who stepped in to help him see another pathway. And it wasn’t always easy for those mentors. Youth, who grow up in the struggle, find comfort in the chaotic certainty of it. An overwhelming number of the nearly 1000 youth we serve every year live with this certainty.
While mentorship through Big Brothers Big Sisters is proven to help youth gain a better perspective on life, many youth will push back. Youth, especially those from traumatic backgrounds, like some in foster care may not have the same built in ability, even as emerging adults, to deal with insecurity or uncertainty. But I say to those who are mentoring, thank you and keep pushing forward. Give them words of encouragement, offer a helping hand (not a handout), celebrate small accomplishments (like not making you have to wait 10 minutes when you come pick them up), give them room to explore this new self that you are helping to reveal, and help them develop a vision of a healthy future.
Desperate actions that cause our youth to end up dead or in prison are not ok.
Our youth can do better when are guided to see a concrete way to something better. It’s up to us in the village to shine a light so that all youth, regardless of their adversity and misfortune can see the pathway to a successful life. Become a mentor visit www.bbbsdetroit.org.