Do you have a hard time recruiting black men and women?
Oh, my God! This is more difficult than selling magazines, and selling magazines, as you know, is not easy! Our children have to become our first concern. They are not our future, they’re our now. And we’re not stepping up in ways that we need to. You know, every single faith-based institution and faith leader should be bringing their congregation to this mentoring movement. The crisis is more grave than you know.
What made me get up out of my seat at Essence and say, ‘I’m out of here’ was when I learned that 80% of black kids are reading below grade level. Fifty-six percent of black fourth graders are functionally illiterate. People don’t know that. That’s not what’s being spoken about from our pulpits, it’s not what our sororities and fraternities and our many organizations are talking about. Those facts have to be put before the community. We have to look in the mirror and say, ‘This is our responsibility’. We can’t rely on our beautiful white sisters and brothers to continue to take care of our children.
I’ve gone into prisons around the country because, as you know, incarcerated people read magazines. But who’s mentoring them? It’s rich white men; retired executives; white women; housewives who have the time, energy, and heart. [Black people] are overwhelmed. It’s not that we don’t care, it’s that we’re overwhelmed. And what happens is we reprioritize; we put down the overflowing platter, you know. Then there’s the television watching that we really don’t need that we use as a way to relax, and the mindless conversations that a lot of us are having that don’t lead anywhere.
We need to really focus on our health and well-being because when we are in balance, then we focus on the right things. Then we realize, ‘Oh my God, the kids around the corner from my church don’t have books.’ If the majority of poor children in underserved schools do not have textbooks, you know where they’re going? To jail. Into a for-profit system built on the backs of poor black boys and girls, young men and women, our children. And [National CARES Mentoring Movement] is saying hell no, not on our watch.
What’s your goal? How many recruits do you aim to get?
Oprah Winfrey did a whole show on the National CARES Mentoring Movement and she put out the number 1 million. So, yes, I’m saying let’s get 1 million mentors. She’s my number one funder, and Anheuser-Busch is a funder, and my husband and I seeded it. We put our own money into the foundation, so [1 million] is a good number. We need a million black people to really step up and say I’m going to mentor. One hour a week is all we’re asking for.
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