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Grabbing Black Youth’s Attention

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By Joseph A. Bailey, II M.D.

Successful Black men beginning “face-to-face” mentoring of struggling youth of any “race” are typically troubled by how to get their attention. As a suggestion, I will share workable approaches created by my friend and workshop partner Linwood Paul. But as background, we met in 1986 at a self-improvement workshop in Los Angeles. Because of our mutual interest in helping struggling Black boys, we generated three programs.

Joseph Bailey M. D.
One was a workshop for young Black parents and parents-to-be, based upon Ancient African’s philosophy for rearing children. Another was taking groups of Black boys to parks and exposing them to new ideas concerning nature and ways of socially acceptable living. The third was orchestrating the activities of tough youth hired to work at the Los Angeles Conservation Corp. My volunteered job was to provide bimonthly educational programs. The beginning and most successful talk concerned the various aspects of money (e.g. how to honorably make it, use it to get out of debt, save it, and spend it wisely).

Most recently (April, 2006), Linwood and I gave a workshop to students, ages 14 to17. As potential or actual juvenile offenders, they attend the Dade Marine Institute in Miami, Florida. There, they are assisted with academic remediation, and the acquiring of a structure for appropriate discipline, behavior modification, and pre-vocational training. Present were 20 to 25 youth—2/3rd Black and 1/3rd Hispanic; 2/3rd males and 1/3rd females. Our theme was: “creating, enhancing, and maintaining harmony and unity.” The objective was to impart three lifeskill principles. To grab their attention, Linwood made the objectives into the form of a group game and at each session we offered them a one hundred dollar bill if they succeeded. Upon hearing this, the students immediately straightened up from their slouched over positions and gave us their undivided attention. The stipulation for the money was that at least half be spent to help some person(s) in greater need than they. This was to be a group decision (as part of the teaching process of unity).

We started by having each student stand in front of the “I Am a Special Somebody” chair and proudly give his/her name. That name was then written on a chart, in a crossword letter form, to symbolize how they all are similarly unified. Next, each would sit and state in 20 seconds: “what is the most important thing in my life?” One each said parents, dad, education, kids, career, mind, being successful, goals, and future. Two said money; three said mom and family; and four said God. They specifically asked Linwood and me to go through the same process. My statement was: “to discover the full scope of unconditional love and then learn, through participation, the best ways to spread it”. Surprisingly, several students came up to me at the end of the workshop and asked me to elaborate. With one Black boy I spent 10 minutes discussing love in African Tradition.

Much of the workshop time was spent on playing “harmony and unity” games. Linwood is world-known for being able, by means of games, to get and keep the attention of groups of people on all levels of the social ladder. These games help each participant  gain some insight into how he/she thinks, feels, conveys messages, and behaves towards other people. It was a real pleasure to see the youth all work together to accomplish the goal of the game (and thereby earn the one hundred dollar bills). This was probably the first time they had been a team member in any constructive endeavor. Interestingly, it was a Hispanic girl who immediately took over leadership and told the tough “dudes” and “dudesses” what to do.

From this and similar experiences, I have gained the impression that the “bottom line” of what every youth is after—no matter how tough—is to be loved in a way he/she can recognize and understand. Furthermore, nothing will penetrate the barriers around their hearts until they feel the sincerity of the person giving them the love they crave—even if they know they do not deserve to be loved. It is a slow process for them to learn to open up their own love flow and thereby return it. However, only then can they accept a mentor “being real” about what they need to do.