Below is a mural with just a few of the youth and volunteers who have been involved in the programs I've led. The total number is over 4000 youth and a similar number of volunteers. Some of the young people in this picture are now adults raising their own kids.
Thus, the violence, racism, police brutality, and social injustices that they face are personal to me.
I was able to stay connected to a few, such as Leo Hall, who was my first, and only, one-on-one mentee, starting in 1973. He's now the proud father of two young men, and living in Nashville.
As the program's leader, I became a mentor to all of the youth, and volunteers, who participated each year.
As Facebook and Linked in became tools for connecting networks in the late 2000s, I began to search for former students and volunteers and connecting as "friends".
As a result, I've been able to follow their posts, see their joys, their sorrows, the graduation and prom pictures of their kids. I've had many say "thanks Dan". I've invited many to take on my role, to keep the work I've been doing alive and growing in future years. Through these on-line communities I've attempted to help them connect to each other, and to volunteers and staff who were part of the programs in the past. To me, this offers the greatest future potential of this type of volunteer-based tutor/mentor strategy.
I've seen the anger and frustration over #BlackLivesMatter growing for several years, even before there was an official #BlackLivesMatter.
Facebook enables you to form "groups" of friends, family, etc. which you can then follow on an ongoing basis.
Thus, I've been able to read the messages posted in the past, and in the last couple of days, by many former students, and it just saddens, frustrates, and angers me.
I'm connected to many other former students and volunteers on Facebook, who are not included in any of my lists, but reading these will break your heart, and will also give you hope.
Some of the people on these list were in elementary school in the 1970s when I first met them. When I think of mentoring, I think of strategies that build connections between people from different backgrounds that last for many years, even decades.
I'd like to see donors encourage network-building and network analysis as core strategies of tutor/mentor programs. I'd also like to see funding focus on building strong, long-term organizations, rather than focus on short term project based goals.
Since the 1990s, I've created a variety of graphics to try to illustrate how an organized tutor/mentor program can serve as a bridge to connect people who don't live in poverty with people who do.
This is a graphic from a 2008 article.
Here's a concept map illustrating a similar idea.
I did not grow up in Chicago, or in a neighborhood with diverse families. I grew up in small Midwest towns with little diversity.
My empathy and understanding come from nearly 40 years of leading a tutor/mentor program and collecting and sharing articles related to race, poverty, inequality, etc., which are reasons tutor/mentor programs are needed in the first place.
As the Internet became a resource, I put this library on line and used weekly email newsletters and web sites to try to draw volunteers to this information. As social media has grown, I have used it as well.
Here's an animation created by an intern from the University of Michigan, showing how volunteers grow and become more involved, if they are well supported in the program where they are involved. This type of support does not happen by accident. It needs to be intentional. It needs to be well funded.
Such program need to be in many more places.
I'm pissed off at what's happening now, partly because too few leaders, volunteers and donors have helped me build and sustain my own program, or have helped mentor-rich programs, with a LEARNING STRATEGY for volunteers, grow in more places.
I am connected to a network of former students and leaders from similar programs in Chicago and other cities because I've made a concerted, on-going effort, to build and maintain these connections. Because I've done that, they are available to others. I've boxes of news clips, saved since the late 1970s, that show that the tragedies we face today, we were facing 20 and 30 years ago. The only difference is that today social media enables many, many, more people to talk about this and share their anger and frustrations with each other and with strangers.
The #BlackLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter movements are not happening in a vacuum. They are part of many different local, national and international stories that demand our attention and spur our anger and frustration every day.
We must find ways to get many more people from different backgrounds personally connected to each other, in ways where they connect over, and over, for multiple years so that understanding, empathy, and passion for solutions grows in more places.
Organized tutoring/mentoring programs can do that. They need more help. Many need to adopt this as part of their vision, mission and strategy.