‘IT TAKES A village to raise a child.”
As true as that African proverb is, we’ve heard it so much that some consider it little more than cliche. While many people still embrace it, others — whether they believe in it or practice it or not — recite it just because it sounds good and they know others expect to hear it. And then there are those who reject the notion, claiming that it absolves parents of personal responsibility to rear their children.
But regardless of how people feel about it, the notion that it takes a village to consistently and effectively raise productive, well-rounded children who add to society rather than become a burden unto it is accurate. Our society will unravel without the village.
During one whirlwind day traveling to events for students and young people in the spring, I was reminded vividly of how important and effective the village is when it comes to building youngsters into productive citizens.
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It was April 25, and I got an early start. My first stop was at Horrell Hill Elementary in Lower Richland, where I spoke to the school’s fourth- and fifth-graders for career day. The lunch room was packed with energetic students who listened intently as I talked and answered questions about my upbringing, my pursuit of education and my career.
As I left, I passed by classrooms where individuals from a wide range of professions — including a large number of African-Americans — were sharing their own stories and talking about their careers.
Without positive role models who engage them, encourage them and provide real-life evidence that it can be done, how are these youngsters supposed to grasp that they can rise beyond where they are, regardless of the circumstances?
After I left Horrell Hill Elementary, I was able to get a couple hours of work done before taking off at noon to speak at the 2014 South Carolina Youth of the Year celebration hosted by the USAG Fort Jackson CYS Services and the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Midlands. Judges selected two winners that day: a S.C. Military Services Youth of the Year and a S.C. Youth of the Year from among Boys and Girls Clubs members.
All of the finalists for the awards were articulate, engaging and ambitious. In addition to having personal interviews with judges, they all were required to speak during the luncheon about their experience with the youth programs.
A former state Youth of the Year myself, I can’t say I was nearly as bright as any of this year’s finalists.
But while I was impressed by their poise and intellect, I was particularly struck that they each talked about how staff and directors and peers at their clubs had become their family, not only nurturing and guiding them, but being at their side during tough times.
For one, it was the support she got while her father was deployed. Another talked about how her club was a haven for her and her siblings as their single mother worked. Another talked about her battle with cancer and how the club had been there for her. Each story was heart-wrenching yet full of hope and inspiration. There were some wet eyes in the audience.
By the time I got up to deliver my remarks, these fantastic youngsters had really said it all. But I did share with them that just as the clubs had been their village, it was mine as well. And as one whose father wasn’t in the home and who was raised by a single mom, I too needed the positive influence of the Boys and Girls Club to help shape me and keep me grounded; otherwise I could have ended up like many of my peers — a dropout, an addict or a convict.
It was comforting to know that a part of the village that had reached out to me was still hard at work helping sculpt kids searching for themselves into productive citizens.
Just a few hours after the Youth of the Year celebration, I ventured to Midlands Technical College’s Airport campus, where I had the pleasure of being speaker for the year-end ceremony for the African American Male Leadership Institute.
The institute helps black male students develop leadership qualities while also helping them to commit to their education and finish school. In addition to focusing on academic, professional and personal success, the institute helps participants develop unity with fellow students and provides networking opportunities that could help them in the future.
I listened as young black men talked about how those who oversee the Midlands Tech program helped them get their lives together. Not only did the program prompt some to get serious about college, it literally helped others enroll and pay for schooling. Still others expressed thanks for being able to pick up the phone and call adviser Antoine Deas in the wee hours of the morning for advice. They had found something they could belong to, people who cared, people who sought to make them better.
One of the young men talked about being a single father and being encouraged to do well for his child by bettering himself in school and working hard on his job. Others had similar testimonies.
It was particularly pleasing to learn that the young men being mentored and guided in the Midlands Technical College program were giving back by being mentors and guides for younger students in a fairly new program called Elevations, a nonprofit in Lower Richland that offers mentoring and other help to at-risk teens ages 12-19.
Folks, that’s village-type stuff.
That April day reinforced for me that we all have a role to play in the lives of our children — from schools to colleges to youth and young adults themselves to families to peers, you name it. Our young black boys and men — and Hispanics as well — are having a particularly difficult time with unemployment, crime, gangs, education and drugs and violence.
That’s why I have been writing a lot about programs and initiatives aimed at helping our youths to succeed, particularly our young black men. We’ve all got a stake in the future of our youth.
Maybe it’s true that we’ve just about worn out the African proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” But it’s not because we’ve perfected it. It’s more likely because we’ve not done enough and have had to continue to remind ourselves of our responsibility.
We ourselves must not wear out, give out or give up on helping our children become successful, contributing adults.
Reach Mr. Bolton
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