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Unfolding our youth

About a month ago, during the hype of award season, I heard Moonlight actor, Mahersala Ali, say something that shook me to my core. He said “I think what I’ve learned from working on Moonlight is we see what happens when we persecute people. They fold into themselves. And what I was grateful about playing a gentleman who saw a young man folding into himself as a result of the persecution of his community and taking an opportunity to uplift him and tell him that he mattered and that he was OK and accept him”.

Fold into themselves? I had never heard that phrase, but in that moment, I felt it. Felt the despair, the desperation, the hopelessness and weight of all human sadness. What an awful, lonely space to exist, right? And I thought about the youth in our community and wondered how many of them had folded into themselves. According to a report Measure of America by the Social Science Research Council Detroit has one of the highest rates of youth disengagement in the country - meaning youth are not a part of the structure and meaning that school and work bring to daily life. Why does it matter? Research says that disconnection has scarring effects on health, happiness, and job satisfaction— effects that endure years later.

Prevention is the best cure. Ensuring that families have the resources they need to help their children pass safely through the obstacle course of adolescence and early adulthood to realize their full potential benefits all Americans. Big Brothers Big Sisters is one of those key resources in the community.

Just the other day, I was looking at a picture of one of our new matches on our facebook page and I was just in awe. Little Brother Tayshawn, about 10 years old, is standing with his Big Brother Amr, who is just towering over him. At that moment, I thought what a brave little boy standing next to this “giant’ stranger. I mean, before he was matched with Amr, Tayshawn had no idea who would become his Big Brother. He just knew a Big Brother would be someone who would spend some time with him, hanging out, helping with homework, talking, and going to activities, maybe sporting events or the movies. And his family trusted the process. They trust Big Brothers Big Sisters to make sure Tayshawn is always safe. His mother knew that we would never match her son with a Big Brother unless he had been thoroughly screened, vetted and trained. And still, for a parent there’s probably a bit of uncertainty. But when you have a child at risk of “folding into himself” for a variety of reasons, you do what you can to find opportunities to help that child develop higher aspirations, greater confidence, educational success and the resiliency to avoid risky behaviors, like skipping school, drinking and drugs. It’s an amazing moment when a Little and Big meet for the first time, under the watchful eye of our staff and the parents (guardians). We take that first picture and in it are the hopes that together we are changing this child’s life for the better forever. I hope in that moment and behind the shy smile, Tayshawn felt like the giant knowing that people in the community care about him and he is valued, important and loved.

Every time we engage youth in a mentor relationship we are starting something Big that will have lasting, uplifting impact on our youth and community. This year, our theme is Give, Mentor, Share! Give to our efforts by making a donation when you can, raising money through a Bowl the for Kids Sake event, or joining us for our Great Big Auction on June 16th; mentor by becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister; or, simply share our mission by “liking” us on facebook, instragram or twitter and encouraging your social media network to do the same so more people can learn about the great work we are doing at Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Mario & Aaron