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Every child deserves a mentor, but few step up

"Big Brother" Michael Clarke often sees his "Little," Devin, when he goes to the barbershop.

Without fail, Devin comes running over to tap on the window and say hello.

When they aren't going to a sporting event or attending church, they talk on the phone at least every other day.

In Devin, Clarke sees a likable teen with whom he enjoys spending time. In Clarke, Devin sees not a substitute father or second parent, but a friend and a mentor. In the pair, Big Brothers/Big Sisters officials see the promise of their mission.

They just wish they could see more African-American men stepping up to form the kind of meaningful relationship Clarke shares with Devin.

It's not that men of other races can't effectively mentor a black child, but having a black man as a role model to a black boy provides a cultural connection.

"The more commonalties we can bring between a Big and a Little, the stronger their relationship can become, because they understand each other's culture, challenges and opportunities," said Jenny Carlisle, director of marketing and communications for Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Pinellas County.

Clarke, 54, established a connection with Big Brothers/Big Sisters through his fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi. Both groups were looking to enhance mentoring opportunities.

Clarke, a claims analyst for Allstate, has long worked with youths while raising his two children, both Florida A&M graduates.

As the son of Johnnie Ruth Clarke, former associate dean of St. Petersburg Junior College, helping kids in his genes. He also wants to be a role model for children who see too many negative images of black men in the media.

In connecting with Devin, Clarke calls upon his memories of mentors who helped shape his life — guys from the Police Athletic League and YMCA whose influence he didn't come to appreciate until he was an adult.

That prompts me to think of the mentors in my life, and how we need more of those role models today.

"What bothers me is that I think some of us aren't willing to spend the time," said Clarke, noting that Big Brothers/Big Sisters continues to have a waiting list of young black boys. "These young men don't have (what we had). You can stand out there and look like a million dollars, but if you're not making yourself approachable or available, what good are you?

"We've got to stop our own genocide," Clarke added, his voice rising. "If we don't change our mode, there will be no black males and those who father our children won't raise our children. I harp on my own kids: Don't be a 'baby's mama' or a 'baby's daddy,' be a parent."

Now, more than ever, we need African-American men to be good fathers, loving husbands, productive citizens and college graduates. And when one of us falters, those in a position to help must fill the void.

One of the men arrested in connection with the recent shooting death of 8-year-old Paris Whitehead-Hamilton in St. Petersburg has an infant son.

If that father ends up in jail, who will be a role model for his son? Who will stop that child from ending up in the same predicament his father now faces?

Who will be his big brother? Call toll-free 1-888-412-2447.

That's all I'm saying.

Every child deserves a mentor, but few step up 04/14/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 14, 2009 10:11pm]
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