Over this past week, many of us have wrestled with the construct of racism and how to respond. We may even look down at our hands and wonder how we can help.
Some people are using their hands to pray and others to raise signs for justice. At Big Brothers Big Sisters, our parents, mentors, donors and staff raise their hands to help the children - that’s why we are here. And when you support Big Brothers Big Sisters here in Detroit, you are supporting black lives, as 87 percent of the youth we serve identify as black or mixed-race.
We've had conversations both internally and externally, litmus testing or checking our own conscious and unconscious biases. As each of us decides how to respond, many of us look beyond the reflection of ourselves in the mirror and deeper into the content of our character. That is what brought us to Big Brothers Big Sisters and drives us every day – especially these days.
It may not have crossed your mind that mentoring helps youth deal with trauma brought on by generations of oppression, solely based on the color of their skin, a dehumanizing construct that reverberates through every fiber of our country. Our volunteer mentors, of all backgrounds, tell us, "I just want to make a difference in a kid's life." Many of our parents say the same thing, only for them, it’s so personal.
"I’m looking for some type of mentoring program for my twin boys,” one mom says. “ My sons are growing up with no father figure and this world is so cold. A few months ago my children witnessed a murder of one of their friends. I'm not sure how to keep my children out of prison and out of the grave. Every day I hear of a mother burying her son.”
Racism, prejudice and bigotry create lasting impressions on youth. They build hate, fear, loneliness, low self-esteem, the inability to thrive, succeed, and so much more. They bring kids to our waiting list every day, as they have for the 100 years our organization has been around. Ever since then, we've been trying to heal those unrelenting wounds in our children.
Injustice didn't start in Minnesota on May 25, 2020, when George Floyd was killed as he lay unarmed under the weight of three police officers. The systemic injustice felt by many of our youth may come from waiting for an incarcerated parent to come home. It may come from living below the federal poverty level, attending under-resourced schools or hearing that a loved one has died of coronavirus, which has been attacking black women, men and children at a frighteningly higher rate than the rest of our population, because health disparities leave them unarmed to fight back.
These deeply disturbing experiences permeate the lives of all our youth.
There is some comfort in knowing that, when we collectively and consciously understand black lives do matter, when we create genuine acceptance of others, when people feel validated as equals and liberated from fear, our children can begin to heal. We are on a powerful precipice of real change.
As we think about how we can help, let’s seek to listen, learn and understand. When we do, we will understand that the power to heal is found in relationships, and that’s the value of Big Brothers Big Sisters.
We stand against racism, injustice and bigotry. Over the weeks to come, we will be sharing resources and information on the impact of racism to our youth, including ways to talk about it with them. Together, we are Defenders of our own potential, and we thank each of you for being a part of our community and a part of the solution.