By Alma Powell and Rhonda Mims
Ask anyone what you can do to support the youth and you’ll inevitably hear the word “mentor.”
For young people, having a mentor ensures that there is somebody in their life who cares about them and can help them visualize a successful future. In today’s culture, where reality is scripted for television and violence is part of video games, finding a meaningful role model is more important than ever. Sadly, many youth today, especially young African-Americans, lack access to positive role models and, as a result, can find it challenging to navigate the path to adulthood.
Without a vision for where you are headed, it is easy to lose your way. This is especially true today when many young people are faced with overwhelming challenges like poverty and poor schools. While we’ve made progress in reducing the high school dropout rate, less than 65 percent of our youth are graduating on time. The African-American unemployment rate is 14.4 percent versus the national average of 8.3 percent. Helping more African-American youth excel requires a community filled with dedicated adults who young people can engage with and learn from.
As we look at the winners of this year’s 100 Best Communities for Young People, we find communities as role models. These winning communities have an average high school graduation rate of nearly 80 percent compared to the national rate of 75.5 percent. They are mentoring their young people and, in turn, providing guidance for the rest of us.
Many African-American families call our winning communities home. And among the winners, many have programs specifically supporting youth. In Lubbock, Texas, a second-time winner, the 100 Black Men of West Texas, provides mentors, advocates and role models to help youth address their social, emotional and cultural needs. The program focuses on building essential skills to become productive, contributing citizens and offers a scholarship program of more than $20,000 to African-American students.
Chesterfield County, Va., a community where more than 20 percent of youth are African-American, is committed to providing the best education especially during the tumultuous middle school years, which Education Secretary Arne Duncan has called the “Bermuda triangle of education.” Its Success program allows academically-struggling eighth graders to complete two ninth-grade classes in summer school and receive mentoring throughout their freshman year. Meanwhile, its Spring Forward program helps ninth graders pass their required classes, while incorporating lessons on substance abuse and anger management.
Newport News, Virginia., where more than 40 percent of youth are African-American, can be proud of an 87 percent graduation rate. City and school leaders here work together to support at-risk youth with GED programs, homeless outreach services, and teen parenting programs. This is just a sampling of the great work happening around the country. We must ask ourselves what kind of mentor role we will play. In the end, for our nation to be successful, all of our communities must be the best for young people.
Alma Powell is chair of America’s Promise Alliance, the nation’s largest partnership network devoted to improving the lives of young people. Rhonda Mims is president of the ING Foundation and head of the ING U.S Office of Corporate Responsibility. America’s Promise Alliance and ING U.S. recently unveiled the 2012 winners of the 100 Best Communities for Young People competition. To see the full list of winning communities, visit: www.americaspromise.org/100best.