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The Need For Minority Mentors

Monday, June 4, 2001 at 2:21 PM

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Big Brothers/Big Sisters program has quite a challenge this month. Their goal is to recruit 50 minority mentors by June 30th. And after nearly a month of trying, they're only half way there. The shortage of minority male mentors has hundreds of boys looking for role models. Recruiters have launched campaign to get the word out that mentors are needed. Because being a big brother can offer benefits for both people involved. And in Cleveland there is crying need for more of these types of relationships. 90.3's Tarice Sims tells the story of how Big Brothers/Big Sisters is trying to fill the void.

Tarice Sims- Dwayne Langford is a 17-year-old junior with dreams of attending Ohio State University. He lives with his grandmother, Madeline Rice, on Cleveland’s east side in a small apartment above a dry cleaners.  5 years ago, the 6-foot-2 Langford says his life changed for the better. His grandmother encouraged him to get involved with the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. And after a few months on a waiting list, Langford was introduced to his Big Brother, or mentor, Tony Matthews. He says Matthews in some ways fills a void in his life.

Dwayne Langford- I had people to talk to but Tony, he was different he was someone I could relate to—to my situations, and that’s the wonderful thing about Tony.

TS- Langford says he was apprehensive at first. After all, it was a stranger who he was about to let into his life, but the two formed an almost immediate bond. He says they’ve grown comfortable with each other and now they just have fun together.

DL- We like to travel a lot. Last year we went to Niagara Falls, before that we went to Washington D.C. to see the monument(s) and stuff—we(’ve) seen a lot of things. It was such a good experience, you know. Not only do we travel but he takes his time out of his day, ‘cause you know he’s a busy man, carpenter and stuff. He’ll help me with my homework, and I play basketball, and he can’t play basketball, but he helps me, he’ll rebound for me, but other than that we do a lot of good things together.

TS- Langford can be considered one of the fortunate members of the Big Brothers/Big Sisters program. Right now there are about 200 children on the waiting list. More than 80% of them are African-American boys. There’s been a big push to get minority men to volunteer with these kids but Matthews says it wasn’t the sales pitch that got him to become a mentor.

Tony Matthews- Most motivations are selfish. I think I was having a lot of fun spending all my money, motorcycles, jet skis, and I felt a little guilty about it you know.

TS- So Matthews decided to share a bit of himself and become a mentor. Unlike his little brother, he grew up in Akron in a two-parent household where he says he didn’t want for much of anything. But Matthews sees the growing need for male role models especially in inner city communities. Deborah Giles is the Minority Recruitment Coordinator for Big Brothers/Big Sisters. She says women cannot raise boys into men and will find negative male models to fulfill the need for male bonding.

Deborah Giles- In 20 years, 10 years, these kids are going to be the ones who are going to be working. They are going to be the ones who need to contribute to social security or whatever, and they are going to be helping us. So either we can help them do what we need to do now or we’re going to sit back look at something that might be anything that we want to see. We either do it now or pay later.

TS- About a year ago Big Brothers/Big Sisters got $30,000 from Cuyahoga County to recruit 50 minority men by the end of this month. At the time 50 didn’t seem like much, but right now only 30 men have signed on to be mentors. At the end of May , the organization made a pitch to around 60 people asking them to volunteer. But so far no additional men have signed up. Dr. Wornie Reed is the Director of the Urban Child Research Center at Cleveland State University. He says there are many theorys regarding why men don’t volunteer.

Wornie Reed- I don’t know that many men really know how important it is. And number two, many of the men who would be able to do that very well in this day and time are very busy. We seem to have more things to do than people had a generation or two ago.

TS- Despite peoples’ busy schedules, Giles says she’s determined to continue to strive for their goal on behalf of the kids. She says they haven’t given up on those people who’ve at least shown an interest in mentoring at their recruitment functions. Big Brothers/Big Sisters holds orientation sessions every week and as Giles says they are hoping a few good men will respond to the call. In Cleveland, Tarice Sims, 90.3 WCPN.

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