Tag Archives: Mentorship

BUILDING A ROAD MAP FOR SUCCESS: WHY FINDING A MENTOR IS CRUCIAL TO BLACK MALE SUCCESS

I have issued the comment that “there is dignity in all work” to my male students so often that I honestly cannot tell you from whence this observation emanates or when I first uttered what I consider an ode to manhood. One thing is for certain, the dignity that flows from labor is a cornerstone of manhood.

Although it would be impossible for me to count the many black male students I have advised that “there is dignity in ALL work,” I am confident that number reaches into the thousands. Of all the lessons that I hope they retain from my courses, the concept that labor paves the way toward the securing of their goals is arguably the most important.

During the past two decades, I have engaged thousands of black males desiring directive regarding the path to manhood; a destination that is nearly inaccessible to young black males without the aid of appropriate mentorship and guidance. I have learned that the vast majority of black males have little understanding of what a man ought to be and ought to do. For far too many black males, a solo journey down the path to success is similar to a failed navigation of unfamiliar terrain without the assistance of either a roadmap or illumination; we tend to travel alone and in the dark.   What makes this inefficiency extremely unfortunate is that others have successfully navigated the alluded to terrain; however, many of those who have arrived at a destination of success have forgotten to aid subsequent generations of black males seeking success.

One of the most shocking things about the road to success is that although the road can be arduous and unpredictable, the tools needed for the journey are relatively limited, yet must be applied with an extreme discipline. The alluded to tools are,

  • Selection of a goal.

  • Development of a detailed plan to achieve the desired goal.

  • Strict adherence to that detailed plan via focus, diligence, and hard work.

  • Unrestrained courage to pursue your goals.

Without the invaluable illumination that mentorship provides, the vast majority of African-American males are oblivious to the snares, pitfalls, and cliffs littered throughout the path to success. If one considers former Black Panther Party leader Fred Hampton’s advice that “people learn from observation and participation” valid, it is imperative that successful African-American men give back to their community by guiding succeeding generations of black males in the development of a plan for success.

I am confident that many African-American males are sighing, “If only it were that easy.” The have frequently been ignored by those that they seek to help for one simple reason; they are devoid of the renown or celebrity status that bequeaths its possessor with instant credibility. In many ways, this unfortunate reality is the impetus for me using the words of Tupac Amaru Shakur at this particular moment.

Tupac shared the following advice to young African-Americans regarding hard-work, the vehicle that those pursuing success must use to travel down.

“You have to work from one point to go to another. So I admire work ethic, I think it should be reinforced through out our neighborhoods, that everybody should work hard, practice makes perfect, you have to be diligent with what you want, you have to apply your self, you have to motivate yourself.”

Life has taught me that ultimately we write our own story by either using or refusing to use the tools of planning, diligence, focus, and courage; I pray that the next generation of African-Americans craft the perfect life filled with their achievement of their most unrealistic hopes and wildest dreams. Such a life is there for the taking and one that is worth living.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

© Manhood, Race and Culture, 2017

HOW A GROUP OF EIGHTH-GRADERS FROM ARNOLD MIDDLE SCHOOL REMINDED ME OF WHY I DO WHAT I DO

Like everyone else, I am susceptible to growing weary while performing the mentally straining and emotionally exhausting heavy lifting required to provide the next generation of African-Americans even a remote possibility of succeeding in a society where their inferiority is an absolute given. There are periodic moments when one’s will to continue this never-ending fight is nearly extinguished; without fail, a symphony of doubt, frustration, and questions regarding the seeming futility of the struggle appear as the weary blues. The only balm to the mental and emotional exhaustion mentioned above is the occurrence of some event that reminds you that it has not all been in vain. Unfortunately, the alluded to validation cannot be ordered on command; instead it arrives via unexpected sources at opportune moments.

Recently I was approached regarding my willingness to aid The Collegiate 100 — a subsidiary of the 100 Black Men of America — an organization of extremely impressive African-American collegians that are simultaneously positioning themselves for success while lifting others as they climb the ladder of success, via addressing a group of 8th Graders from Arnold Middle School during a scheduled campus event. Mentors selected these 8th Graders for a host of reasons. During my adolescence, they would have been labeled “at-risk youth,” a term that indicated more about environs than intellectual capabilities and prowess. I knew such a group very well as years ago I carried a similar label. I accepted the assignment without hesitation.

As usual, I arrived early to the 9:30 event and busied myself researching topics for future blog postings, however, slightly before the scheduled start time, a cadre of students, the majority of them currently enrolled in one of my History courses arrived and began their preparations for the young scholars’ arrival. Within minutes our “guests of honor” arrived, took their assigned seat, and were listening to my presentation regarding issues such as self-responsibility, planning, and the development of a familial educational legacy. Put simply; my address sought to inform these young people that they are the primary determinant of their success and the future of this entire nation was resting upon their broad and sturdy shoulders.

One of the promises that I made to myself as a student was that if ever provided the public speaking opportunities that I would never replicate the droning and draining lecture style of orators who operated out of an old authoritarian style of I lecture and you passively listen to my brillance. Put simply; such characters left no room for interaction with by the end of their address was an auditorium full of inattentive listeners. Hence, I always consider it essential that I interact with my audience via a “Question and Answer” segment.

As previously mentioned, the desperately needed jolt that re-energizes those who have grown weary of the Herculean task of uplifting Black America invariably comes at an opportune moment from unexpected sources. I am proud to relate that I received a much-needed jolt from this group of 8th Graders who dared to betray a steely silence that always accompanies persons of their age by peer pressure. To my delight, this group engaged me in an unusual manner that simultaneously displayed their brilliance, intellectual curiosity, and previous exposure to success formulas resting on personal accountability. Their mentors are to be applauded as these children demonstrated an unusual ability to answer an array of issues presented to them in a manner that betrayed their youth. Their superior intellect was displayed at every turn except when I queried “Where do you plan to be five years from now?”

After several questions regarding by background, my alma mater, the degrees I have earned and books that I have written, most were shocked to learn that I was a first-generation collegian. As expected, the conversation turned toward questions surrounding why they should attend a Historically Black College or University.

The question, poised by a brilliant young lady on the left side of the auditorium, was a particularly piercing one of “Since you have been to a white university and now work at a Historically Black University, why should we come to an H.B.C.U.?” Although I have much love for my alma mater, THE Ohio State University, to the best of my ability I explained to this attentive audience that at a place such as Prairie View A & M University “You will not only be invited into, but also joining and embraced by an esteemed tradition of black thinkers, educators, and professionals who are dedicated to aiding you in traveling down a road that they created for your success. You matter mightily at this place from the moment that you make the decision to enter and well-beyond your exit. You are going to find that we will nurture you, challenge you, and guide you every step of the way as you pursue your dreams, goals, and aspirations. At this place, we are serious about producing productive people.”

By the end of our interaction, the vast majority of these individuals had expressed their intention to become Prairie View Panthers and vowed to keep in touch during their high school tenure. As I gathered my belongings and prepared to exit the venue, one young man rushed up to me and related the following, “I thought about where I will be five years from now. I am going to be sitting in your History class right here at PVAMU.” I could do nothing other than smile at him and respond, “Sir, I’m looking forward to it. And I truly mean that.”

As I ended my exchange with this obviously brilliant young man, one of the chaperones for this youth group approached me and stated the following. “You probably don’t remember me, but I was one of your students.” I searched my mental Rolodex for him, yet came up empty. He continued, “I looked different back then. I had a big Afro and gold fronts (teeth). However, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for all that you did for me. I am assuming an Assistant Principal position next week.” I could do nothing but laugh at the fantastic news and responded, “From gold fronts to Assistant Principal?” We both shared a hearty laugh at the development.

One thing was sure, as I exited the building, I knew that these young people had made an indelible impact on me; an impact that re-charged my emotional state and simultaneously reminded me of why I do the work that I do.

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

When That Bill Comes Due and It is Time to Pay What You Owe: Why I Must Yield to the Call to Return Home

During a much-needed vacation, an event that I have learned is a must-have if I am to continue the work that I do, I was presented an ‘opportunity’ to work with a group of African-American youth from my indigenous community in a significant way. I was most certainly aware that there was a sizable group of young African-American males and females who were presently occupying a space that is eerily similar to one I called home nearly thirty-years ago.

The socioeconomic feebleness of my indigenous community is so common that one could use the term stereotypical when describing it. I would venture to suggest that many of you have emanated from similar environs. My hometown of Mansfield, Ohio, the location that the Hollywood Blockbuster Film The Shawshank Redemption was filmed, is a city whose economy totally rested upon long-forgotten automotive and steel industries, respectively.

Although we did not realize it as a relatively privileged community, our beloved city was securely nestled in the arms of what can only be termed a slowly-decaying ‘Rust Belt’. As I am certain that you can imagine, cities like Mansfield, Ohio, are contemporary testaments to the old labor saying of “without work ALL is rotten.”

One need not look much further than the economic decline of ‘Rust Belt’ areas to gather a significant understanding of why my black boyshometown has emerged as a city that should be considered an area that absurdly mimics declining major American cities such as Detroit or Chicago with an unprecedented escalation of crime, drug-infestation, and nihilism that should never have reared its head in such areas. Sadly, it appears that beyond fleeting moments of jubilant Sunday church services and weekly Bible-study sessions, hope for a better day is a rare commodity in Mansfield, Ohio. I have come to understand that the “brain drain” that such areas experience when individuals such as myself flee for what we consider far greener pastures has proven devastating for the communities and more specifically the children that we have left behind.

It is this harsh reality that framed much of the discussion that occurred with my aforementioned mentor; an individual who has continued the arduous task of paving a roadway for future generations of African-American youth to pursue their hopes, dreams, and professional goals.

Although I would prefer to say that our meeting was an attempt to gauge my interest in returning in some capacity to aid those African-American youth who are presently situate in the same position I occupied nearly thirty-years ago; however, the truth of the matter is that I hail from a time where my mentors and elders do very little asking or requesting; particularly, when they are addressing those that they had a significant hand in advising, molding, and therefore creating. It did not take me long to realize that I was not there to offer my services, rather, I was called forth to receive notice that “the bill had come due.”

I am certain that you are wondering ‘what bill?’ had come due. If it were itemized, the alluded to ‘bill’ would reflect the thousands of black boys 3hours my teachers, the vast majority of them African-American, mentors, and the overall community had dedicated to not only throwing down a road that provided me with an opportunity to travel toward that often elusive place called success, but also the tens-of-thousands of man hours that were spent building my self-esteem and convincing an extremely shy child that “yes, you are good enough to compete with the others. And you better not lose.”

Although I wish that I could say the contrary, however, I not only knew that this ‘bill’ would eventually be called in, but also I actually have no choice in regards to addressing this most important matter. The message is obvious, I must return home in some form, shape, or fashion and resume building the same road that others built and maintained for me. This road is critical to the future of Black America as it will be the path that the latest generation of African-Americans will travel upon as they hurry toward success.

It is in many ways the least that I can do to honor all of those that poured wisdom into me. I can feel my ancestors smiling as I move to pick up the same ‘rugged cross’ that they carried for so long. I guess in many ways it is my destiny and whether ‘hook or crook’ I’ve got to kneel to this call.

My question for you, yes, you the reader, is a relatively simple one, “Do you have a similar bill that has come due? Are you attempting to ignore that call?” If so, you may want to tend to that matter, because I can tell you that bill’s tend to hang around. And this is most certainly one that we all should pay; the ancestors demand it and our children need it.

So how could we ever resist paying this ‘Bill’?

Dr. James Thomas Jones III

©Manhood, Race and Culture, 2016