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14 March, 2016

SAVING OUR CHILDREN . . . THE "MAYOR'S MENTORSHIP INITIATIVE"

It was an unseasonably warm March evening. Sunlight continued to bath the early evening sky as hundreds of thousands of souls emptied out of the multi-storied concrete and glass skyscrapers which dot Philadelphia’s downtown landscape leading to City Hall – the seat of government for the City of Philadelphia – the fifth largest metropolitan area of the United States. After completing an intellectually and for some – physically – grueling day of work, it was time to head home. A normally calm walk home or to the nearest bus stop, or to the entrances leading to the elevated and subway train stations morphed into a chaotic experience for these souls who were greeted by hundreds of school-aged children – children who were so fully engaged in a violent fracas that they were oblivious to the fact that they were in the middle of the city’s business district. What unfolded seemed somewhat surreal. Waves of armed police officers rushed to the scene in squad cars, on foot, and on bicycles to quell the melee and restore order. A number of school children were handcuffed, driven to the nearest police station, and charged with disorderly conduct. The students’ melee in the middle of Center City Philadelphia was punctuated by 48 hours of deadly gun violence that snuffed out the lives of a number of young men in their early twenties in the city’s Grays Ferry, Strawberry Mansion, East Falls, and West Philadelphia neighborhoods.
 
 
There is something going on in the lives of our children that is engulfing them in anger. The anger that resides in the deep caverns within our children’s souls lie dormant like lava on the floor of a volcano until a trigger is pulled. Our children carry around that anger with them to school. It drives their decision making and their interaction with other souls. And then some one or some thing pulls a trigger, and the anger that has been lying dormant on the floor of their souls rises up, bubbles over, and explodes like a volcano. The fracas that some of us witnessed firsthand recently in Center City Philadelphia was the result of our children carrying around anger within the deep caverns of their souls. Somehow, on Wednesday, 9 March 2016, an internal trigger was pulled within the souls of our children and the anger that lay dormant on the floor of their souls erupted like a volcano.
 
What we witnessed was really a “cry for help” from our children. Children will rarely voluntarily go to the adults in their world – their parents – and confide to them that they are angry or depressed or displeased. If they do, they are usually summarily dismissed. They are greeted with retorts of: “Angry? Depressed? Unhappy? About what? You haven’t been out here in this world yet. Wait until you grow up and have to get out in the world and earn a living. Then you can talk about being angry and depressed and unhappy!” However, children will “act out” their displeasure, anger, or depression. They allow their actions to speak for them and leave it up to the adults of the world to figure out what’s going on with them and to fix it. And that’s what happened on the evening of Wednesday, 9 March 2016 in Philadelphia. But this is not a “Philadelphia” problem. This scenario plays out in many cities throughout our nation and our global village.
 
 
Angry, depressed, and distrustful children who ignore boundaries – whose emotional and psychological wounds are not healed, mature into angry, depressed, distrustful adults who will become spouses, parents, workers, and neighbors who ignore boundaries prescribed by social and business etiquette. And that leads to anarchy. Handcuffing and carting off to jail children who engage in antisocial behavior which is a by-product of their deep-seated anger, hurt, and frustration only creates another set of problems. So, why are some of our children so angry in the first place? Surely, when they emerged from the womb, they did not emerge as angry, distrustful, violent, and depressed souls. What is going on in their homes and in their neighborhoods and at school? We really need to get serious about the business of saving our children. We can begin to get serious about the business of saving our children --- particularly “at-risk” children who are very hard to reach – by examining what our children need to help them work through their anger and help heal their emotional and psychological wounds which drive their decision making and their actions. One of the key “pieces of the puzzle” to saving our children and giving them what they need is to provide them with mentors. The Mayor’s Mentorship Initiative, created by The Honorable James M. DeLeon, a veteran Philadelphia jurist and Reintegration and Restorative Justice Thought Leader will help key stakeholders not just in the City of Philadelphia, but cities in nations throughout our global village go about the business of “saving our children”. The Mayor’s Mentorship Initiative is one of a number of components of Operation Fresh Start ™, a groundbreaking blueprint which eradicates recidivism by creating pathways to redemption and reintegration for formerly incarcerated souls that is masterfully crafted by Judge DeLeon.
 
 
Under The Mayor’s Mentorship Initiative, formerly incarcerated individuals will receive mentorship training. They must commit to the Initiative for a period of one (1) full year. Participants in the Initiative will receive a review of any pardon or clemency request prior to its submission to ensure that it is accurate and that all factors are complete for consideration in Pardon and Clemency Applications. Formerly incarcerated individuals will be trained to become mentors by an organization that has a successful track record in training mentors. After completing training, these souls would be dispatched to communities to mentor at-risk youths for a period of one (1) year. Administration of The Mayor’s Mentorship Initiative in the United States would encompass the generation of a Letter of Understanding between the District Attorney’s Office and the Mayor’s Office laying out the benefits of the Initiative. Simultaneously, a Letter of Initiative which explains the program will be generated and distributed to any crime victim with the understanding that the victim has the right to approve – in writing – the proposed Mentor’s participation in the Initiative. Once the Mentor has successfully completed the Initiative, a letter will be generated to the Board of Pardons from the Mayor’s Office personally attesting to this fact. An understanding will be established with the State Supreme Court that the Mentor is a participant in The Mayor’s Mentorship Initiative and a similar understanding will be established with the Governor’s Office. Judge DeLeon has assembled a working group consisting of key stakeholders from diverse professional backgrounds who stand ready to help implement The Mayor’s Mentorship Initiative by acting as a liaison between communities, organizations providing mentoring training, the Mayor’s Office, and formerly incarcerated individuals who are candidates for the Initiative.
 
 
Our children – the Next Generation of Leaders, Husbands, Fathers, Wives, and Mothers – through their behavior, are asking us: “Do you see me? Do you hear me? Do I matter?” Now the methodology that they choose to use to ask this proverbial question is giving many adults “cause for pause” and creating chaos in our neighborhoods and cities. But some adult in the village needs to responsibly address the proverbial question that our children are asking. That is how we help save them. Mentors can responsibly address this proverbial question. The truth of the matter is we all need mentors. And no one gets through life successfully without a Mentor.
 
By and large, Mentors are the most nonjudgmental individuals in the lives of their mentees. They treat the mistakes that their mentees have made as “teachable moments”. They will do all that they can to provide their mentees with the tools they need not to make a mistake even if it means being unabashedly honest about mistakes that they have made during their journey from childhood to adulthood.
 
 
Or as, my late Mentor once told me: “How do you think I know so much? How is it that I am able to help you? It’s because I’ve made mistakes and I have learned from them. And that is why I can help you.”
 
 
What our children are really saying to us, but do not know how to articulate it, is simply this: “I need someone to believe in me – even when I make mistakes. I need someone to listen to me . . . to understand the feelings and thoughts that I am expressing. I need someone that is going to take me seriously. I need someone that I can trust.” 
 
 
Mentors will tell their mentees: “Hey, pump your brakes. You don’t want to go down that trail. I have been down that same trail and here is what happened to me. . . .”. 
 
At the same time, Mentors are tough task masters. They are unrelenting as they push their mentees to excel and to work at reaching their full potential. Our children need tough task masters in their lives.            
 
I was fortunate enough to have a Mentor who was unabashedly honest and a tough taskmaster. He helped me understand the importance of having a sense of direction in life, taught me how to transform my mistakes into “teachable moments”, and had no problem challenging me and telling me to “pump my brakes” when I was on the verge of “taking a left turn in life”. No one has ever pushed me as hard. I learned how to “dance with life”’ . . . how and when to step out on faith . . . how to identify and create options. “Options” is a word that is not in the vocabulary of most of our children. They need to be taught how to identify and create options.
 
 
A Mentor will do that for them.
 
 
And that is why my faith in the Mayor’s Mentorship Initiative’s ability to save our children is unshakable.
 

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