The Igbo and Yoruba (Nigeria) proverb exists in different forms in many African languages. The essential meaning is that child upbringing requires a collective effort or, it takes a village to raise a child. One of the reasons that I have this proverb as my guiding principle is because it has been the theme of my upbringing. As it relates to education, I think about the village that rallied around me to make sure I understood and realized my potential and promise.
Two years ago, I had a lofty dream to host an event where I could pair young men with mentors in a way that allowed meaningful conversation and interactions to take place in the most genuine way possible. Last Saturday, that dream became a reality when I hosted what I pray is the first of many annual “Seeds on the Green” events.
I was fortunate to be present when President Obama rolled out his My Brother’s Keeper initiative. All of us in the room were tasked with taking the initiative home and adapting it to the needs of our communities starting with case studies, then action plans and summits to lay the foundation for sustainable practices that would undergird young men and boys of color with the support they need to thrive. My version of this initiative came in the form of The Village Project. With which, we would build a village around our youth, aligning them with resources, information, opportunity, and mentorship. As we held our first press conference, our young ladies demanded we include them as well. So naturally, the work expanded to include our young girls as well as families.
Since that first press conference, we convened a few think-tanks to work towards centralizing resources, establishing a vision and focus but also look at things we could do to start moving the needle. At one of our last meetings, I shared my experiences growing up in Lynwood and gave some context to why this work is so meaningful and shared my idea for the “Seeds on the Green” event. This event would bring our young men together and align them with mentors using golf, something that is readily available to all of them but something that they rarely have the opportunity to take advantage of. When I shared this idea, I had no proof of concept that such an event would have the results that I hoped for. But I knew that the most important part of the event would be the fact that young men had an opportunity to glean from men who could deposit seeds of wisdom in them as a part of the first cohort of young men that we worked to support.
Our equity department made dozens of phone calls the night before the event, and 25 young men showed up at our district office to board a bus at 8 am on a Saturday during the summer. That was a win in and of itself. But these young men came eager to interact and learn even though they had no idea what to expect. They trusted us enough to be open to what we had to offer. Many of them had only seen golf on tv and for the most part had no real interest in the sport. In Lynwood and many similar communities, most of our young men are driven to play basketball, football, soccer, and baseball. Few, if any, ever consider golf.
Perhaps the most moving part of the day was when one young man shared his story. As we planned this event, we tried to find a golf course that was close enough to Lynwood that it would be accessible to our mentees on a regular basis and also somewhere that was in proximity to keep transportation costs as low as possible. We chose Los Amigos in Downey, California since it was a short 2-mile drive from Lynwood.
Los Amigos is a course that is frequented by professional golfers from all across the globe. But what is unique about this course is that the entrance of this course is adjacent to the Los Padrinos Juvenile Detention Center. One of our students shared with us that this time last year he was watching people play golf through a barbed-wire fence and this day he was on the other side. This event literally and symbolically meant he had liberated and secured a brighter future for himself. As he approached the event, he had a visual of the two paths he had available to him. If he went left, he was back at Los Padrinos. If he turned right, he was surrounded by caring adults, men who embodied everything he aspired to be where he’d be enriched with wisdom and opportunity. In talking to him, we made a deal with him. If he stayed on task, kept his grades up, we would make ourselves available to him to continue to teach him the game of golf.
As I reflect on this event, it did not matter what activity we used. What was most important was the fact that we had men willing to spend time empowering and mentoring young men in a forum where they could ask questions of men who grew up and overcame similar obstacles as they are facing. More important, many of these young people heard someone say they believed in them and had them back up those words with action and commitment. They went from showing up reserved and not knowing what to expect from us or golf to opening up to us and practicing their golf swings without golf clubs as they waited to board the bus home.
Now that we have the proof of concept for this type of event, it is imperative that we make sure this kind of gathering happens as often as possible. Planting seeds are one thing, but for anything to grow, we have to make sure we nurture each of them; this is especially important for young men who might sorely need support as they transition from boyhood to manhood. We have so many broken men because they failed to make this change properly. It is my hope and prayer that the first of many Annual “Seeds on the Green” event will be a means to that end.