Taking care of yourself in order to take care of others was the takeaway message from guest speaker Susan L. Taylor Wednesday night at the Brooklyn Chapter of the National Cares Movement annual Black History Month Celebration.
The event was held at the YWCA on Atlantic and 3rd avenues, a gathering of charitable board members, elected officials, mentors, mentees and just a whole lot of folks interested in giving back.
Founded by Taylor in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the CARES Mentoring Movement connects caring and able adults to children in need by equipping local mentoring organizations with volunteers who commit as little as one hour per week to mentor a child. Currently, the program is operating in 57 cities across the United States.
"Before we began our work, there was no national infrastructure in place to engage and sustain desperately needed black men and women volunteers," wrote Taylor, founder and CEO of the National CARES Mentoring Movement and Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Essence Magazine.
"Studies show that when youth are engaged in mentorship programs, they are less likely to participate in risk-taking behaviors. Mentoring makes a difference."
Also in attendance were Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams; Martha Kamber, CEO and president of the Brooklyn YWCA; Grammy Award-winning songwriter Gordon Chambers; Chris Owens from the Kings County D.A. office; and the chair of the Brooklyn Cares Mentoring Movement, Tammy Samms.
"Tonight, we are celebrating the power of mentoring. Mentoring is a low-cost, high-yield solution to this crisis amongst our youth," said Samms.
Studies show that 98 percent of children who are mentored stay in school; 98 percent avoid teen pregnancy; 85 percent don't use drugs; and 98 percent avoid gang participation.
"Susan, you say all the time that The village is on fire. Well, we are the village. Everyone in this room is part of that village that can answer this crisis, that can help our youth."
Chambers referred to himself as a "lifelong mentee" of Taylor, pointing out how Taylor had been serving in the role of mentor for so many people, decades before the idea of a national mentoring movement was realized. He shared a story about how, when he was only 22 years old, Taylor gave him the opportunity to work as a fashion editor at Essence Magazine. Her belief in him and willingness to teach and work with him at such a young age, said Chambers, inspired a confidence in him that changed the course of his life.
Adams shared a funny story about how, in his youth, he used to sneak and read copies of his sisters' Essence because of the magazine's unapologetic celebration of black women and all the articles on wellness and healing, which Adams found helpful as well:
"I like candles; I like incense; and I like talking bubble baths with rose petals too," joked Adams. "But no, seriously: Black men need therapy too. And I remember sitting at her house in Manhattan when she was talking about the whole mentoring program, of giving back to broken people, our children are yelling 'I'm hurting,' by their actions and behaviors. We have this hero among us."
"As an educator, I see the challenges that our young people are facing; all of their needs are not being met," said Skai Stroud, Cares Mentoring Movement board member.
"There are tremendous demands being made on families. So even well-intended mothers and fathers may not be able to be present for their children. And when they're not there, children just fill in the blanks with all kinds of things in their environment-- increasingly hazardous things that their heads and their minds are being filled with. So the Mentoring Movement says, We can't help everybody. Mommy, daddy, you're going to have to work together and work it out. But we will be there to serve as a support system."
Taylor reminded the audience that they're all here on assignment, the same assignment, and that's to give back, with the capacity to leave the community a little bit better than the way they found it.
"We can win this. So I'm going to ask that we link arms," said Taylor. "You're here to serve, not to be served. We need to plan for the recovery of our children. We're talking about getting well from the inside.
"Your presence here tonight speaks about your commitment. But we need for you to really show up. We need legions of black folks to stand strong for our children, because when the call goes out for mentors, it is white women who show up first. And then white men, then black women, and then black men. And we need mentors in reverse order.
"So wellness: You're not going to be able to do for anybody what you can't do for yourself. So put yourself on a schedule. Take off the schedule the stuff that doesn't matter, take time for yourself. And give back."