Last week I visited Chicago’s South Side, one of the most distressed communities in the nation, where gun violence has taken the lives of so many of our children, mothers and fathers. On the afternoon of my arrival, Roseland Community Hospital, which houses the only trauma center in the area, was being threated with closure — an act that would effectively remove immediate emergency services from a community where they’re most needed. The following morning, I listened with deep concern as the principal of one of the local schools described how he was being forced to negotiate a budget reduction that would mean the loss of a huge portion of his faculty. In not focusing on our first priority — caring for our young — we have lost our way. And our children are paying the price with their lives.
Gun violence is a response to the desperate conditions in our neighborhoods, where young people are made to struggle in under-resourced schools, and have little to no access to jobs or extracurricular activities. One of my heroes, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, told us 50 years ago that if we didn’t choose community, then we were, by default, choosing chaos. Surely that’s where we are now, five decades after we had been warned. If we want to put an end to gun violence then we, the fortunate ones who have capacity and vision, must stand in solidarity and peace. We must create a plan to respond to this dream-crushing moment so many impoverished Black children and families are facing.
My own work today, through the National CARES Mentoring Movement, is focused on recruiting mentors to help guide our children so that they can make healthy choices for their minds, bodies and spirits. Our programming embraces the whole-person, an approach we developed years ago with the input and guidance of our brain trust of doctors, educators, advocates, artists, community activists and wellness professionals. But what also informed our philosophy were the miraculous shifts I saw in the lives of the challenged young women and men that the ESSENCE editors and I mentored at our offices. One young woman, whom I met while she was incarcerated and I was editor-in-chief of the magazine, now has more education than I do, and is shaping young minds in her work as a teacher, despite a background of abuse, neglect, poverty and pain.
We can change the path that our struggling young people are on if we change the path that we travel ourselves. We must open our hearts. Volunteering to mentor just an hour a week can help save and secure a life. Log on to caresmentoring.org and get connected. Caring for our children is our work to do. The time is now!
Susan L. Taylor is the founder and CEO of the National CARES Mentoring Movement and editor emerita of ESSENCE.