Conversations with Mentors

I’ve been back in Delaware a grand total of 5 1/2 months and I’ve already run into (or spoken) with three positive male role models from my childhood.

When they discovered I had finished college and started my current career, they were all very proud and happy, as they should been. My elementary school principal, a family friend and a former city councilman were among many people who saw that the chubby introverted and highly sensitive kid with above average intelligence and a desire to learn could become a positive member of society with the proper encouragement, and for the most part, they were right. Without people like Maurice Pritchett, Norman Oliver, Darrin Kellam and others, Lord knows where I’d be right now. I can tell you that 30 years old probably wouldn’t be one of those places.

I ran into Darrin (known from birth as Ghost for complexion reasons I believe) Thursday morning at a gas station and we talked for a good 45 minutes about life and mentoring kids, which Ghost has done forever and ever as a high school basketball coach and director of programs at one of the local Boys and Girls clubs here in Wilmington, Delaware. It got me to thinking about a lot of things. The two main points in particular being that 1) I need to start figuring out how I can give back to the community especially since I’m back in town and feel like it’s necessary and 2) People really don’t understand how sports and arts are CRITICAL to the development of children.

I won’t go too far into detail about me mentoring, but I think I’m at the point where I’m over myself to the point where I feel like a kind word and some assistance could help another kid and save them from the foolishness that’s going on in the streets. Granted it takes a village to raise a child and I reckon a bunch more villages to raise all children, but every little bit helps. It’s really true what they say about how you never know how much you’ve helped someone until they tell you.

Now as far as sports and the arts go, it should go without saying, but I’ll never understand WHY people feel the need to place every single aspect of life on formal education instead of finding a balance between formal education and social skill development. Sports and music/theater/writing do all of that, yet those are the programs that are the most neglected or cut when schools slice their budgets to the size of a piggy bank.

So much of what passes for an education these days hinges a lot on your ability to recite facts, figures and reading and writing, which are important don’t get me wrong, but what makes for productive citizens in my humble opinion is self-esteem and the ability to socialize – pretty much what we call networking. And it’s hard for children to develop social skills when programs that would develop said skills aren’t there.

For example, so much of why mainstream urban music is crappy as all hell is because almost no one plays instruments anymore – no instruments are being played, no music charts are being written and no songs are written because inner-city schools are forced to slice music education and enrichment programs. And so much of life is tied to music (not all of it, but a fair portion), it’s no surprise life imitates art. The art sucks sometimes and kids try to live up to that art and we get the general insanity and lawlessness we have now. Kids don’t have positive ways to emerge from their shells anymore. A lot of famous folks (athletes, musicians, actors, etc.) started off as shy unsure kids who came alive when presented with an opportunity to do something they enjoy and learn and grow from it. I saw a G+ status from a well known podcaster who said “Somewhere the next Steve Jobs is in school, but who is going to bring that out of him?” It’s a very good question, one nobody has the answer to.

As far as sports, people feel there is too much emphasis placed on sports, and that’s fine. But why lie to yourself and say that those with the gifts and desire to be great at a particular sport shouldn’t have as many chances to succeed as kids who are academic geniuses? While academia has more promises and guarantees at success, absolutely nothing is fool-proof. Sports might be the least fool-proof thing of all, but I can tell you I knew kids who were serious introverts like me who went on to become Delaware stars and legends and tackle, slam dunk, hit baseballs, out-run opponents etc. on their way to a college experience and education – and that’s what it’s all about, right?

In short, we wonder why kids are bored/unmotivated/disinterested/restless but we won’t fight for the programs to develop their creativity and personalities or even worse, we won’t lend a helping hand to get them going. This has got to change or we’re just going to keep going down the path of struggle and strife with absolutely nothing for the next generations to learn and grow from.

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