Alex Holmes received the support and guidance needed to push him forward into a future he could have well deemed as unimaginable. He would like to do the same for other black men.
‘Even male elephants learned how to act like male elephants when older male elephants were available as role models to teach them appropriate behaviours.’
—Eric Mahmoud, Educationalist
Have you ever known exactly what you wanted to do in order to make a difference—and when the opportunity came by you felt it all fall together naturally? That is the precise feeling I had when earlier this summer, I decided to train as a Making Men Mentor.
‘Making Men’ is a charity organization endorsed by Mayor of London’s office to generate a wave of positive role models towards young black males in London. When I think about this ‘crisis’ among many of the young black males of this generation, I think that it is clear that there is a definite cry for more positive role models.
Why did I want to do this?
For many reasons, but my first reason is my up bringing. Growing up, I was surrounded by many positive, strong men and women who have given me the support and guidance I needed to push me forward into a future I could have well deemed as unimaginable. I want to pass some of what I have learned from them and from personal experience to keep these young men on the right path.
Unfortunately the same can’t be said for some of the black males out there who are not fortunate enough to have even one positive person to look up to and end up finding themselves in situations they can’t readily escape from.
It could be seen that I enter this argument from a position of privilege: A young black male, from a two parent household with steady incomes and a large family, but I still question whether the fact that a majority of black families are being led by a single parent, usually the mother. The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) state that the figure has risen from 49% in 1991 to 59% in 2011, coincidently the same year as the infamous London Riots.
Secondly, looking around at my peer group, many of them have been unfortunate enough to grow without their fathers. Both genders have been affected greatly, but it seems that it is the young males who have moved further away from progress rather than their female counterparts.
Fortunately, some of my peers have had many role models available for them, male and female, keeping them on the right path, but I always question how much could have been different, not better or worse, a life with a present male role model in their lives.
Third and finally, I realised that having a male role model in the household doesn’t always glean the best results. I have family members who have had strained relationships with their fathers and stepfathers. One, who has a close relationship with his father but a distant one geographically, had little to no guidance from his stepfather who didn’t want to be burdened with him. This strained relationship led my cousin down a very prickly path where he ended up in a youth detention center.
Throughout his unfortunate digression, he had grandfathers, uncles, aunts and cousins counseling him, urging him, to ‘do the right thing’ but the counsel was landing on deaf ears. Thinking about it, I cannot help but consider the possibility of what could have happened had he lived nearer his biological father or whether the relationship with his stepfather was a better one.
This doesn’t only stem from the home though. Schools and the media play a huge role in tailoring the esteem of black boys in todays. It is no surprise that attitudes to education change in the transitional years from 11-14 years old. When I was in school, role models became successful men of the materialistic kind, footballers and rappers rather than businessmen and graduates. These disillusioned young males tend to think that becoming a rapper or footballer is the easy path to success—a notion I cannot stomach—and was the more ‘masculine’ path to take. Absurdly, studying and working towards a career was deemed as ‘feminine’ and not a ‘cool’ enough way to become materially successful.
I never underestimate the power of a positive role model. From local communities there is a wealth of diversity, which can be called upon to motivate and direct young men. With the number of arrests for males on the rise (especially black males), drug offences augmenting and a dearth of academic success it has become even more and more relevant to address this as a practical approach for young men to move forward.
There needs to be a serious discussion about how we can advance young males to make them into positive, progressive and driven young men who see no obstacles but merely challenges they can see themselves overcoming and helping to raise the self-esteem of up and coming males who need direction.
I can only hope that whichever mentee I receive later on in the month will let me help them. The path is a difficult one, and I am sure that I will learn as much from them as I HOPE they will from me. My aim is to contribute to creating a generation of confident and excellent young black men to aim for the best of their abilities.
Whatever the outcome of the coming year, I’m sure I’ll share milestones, I want to encourage more young men to do this, as I fear that waiting for too long may be too late and by then, who knows where we will be.
photo by haleyslove / flickr