By Michael V. Hicks Jr.
For those familiar with the title above, and for those not, let me explain. It’s an ancient African proverb. One that refers to the rearing and development of a village’s children with the participation of the elders of said village.
As I stumbled upon this still relevant and poignant phrase, I looked at my own (Black, African American) community. Mentorship was the norm during my childhood. But sadly, during the last 40 or so years, society strayed from this ideology.
I’m a lifelong resident of Buffalo, New York. My being born and raised here was a direct result of my family’s participation in “The Great Migration.” From the 1930’s to the 70’s, this pilgrimage was the result of millions of residents fed up with the segregated Jim Crow South. So, they packed up their belongings and family members, and headed to the Northern states.
At the time, the “Industrial Age” was in full swing. Cities above the Mason/Dixon line like Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Flint, Michigan became the new way of life for many.There were forms of employment that changed the outlook of the futures of many families. Jobs like steel factories, auto factories, and various other organized union labor opportunities.
Don’t be mistaken, racism and its familiar characteristics still existed in the North, but it was covert as opposed to overt.
Anyhow, many of the community’s families consisted of married couples with children running around the neighborhood living their best life. Parents from my community often went to work at places like Bethlehem Steel, Republic Steel, General Motors, and Dunlop Tires.
If your parent(s) were extremely fortunate, they landed a city, county or state job. This is where the village raising its children comes in.
When we played on the streets in our neighborhood, depending on what shift your parents worked, we’d always see them pull off in their cars to earn a great livable wage. A wage that often supported a family with single income. They’d toot the horn to clear the street and wave to us on their way to work.
The dads in my community were true heroes as we watched them come and go from work every day. Often, they’d come out and toss a football with us after a long day of physical work, offer athletic advice, and teach us how to properly throw and catch any type of ball.
Most importantly, they’d steer us in the right direction, no matter whose child you were!
Back then, the community was an extended family. You had Mr. Jones, Mrs. Smith, and Old Man Thomas. Nosey Miss Hattie would scold you or, even worse, notify parents if they observed wrongdoing from any children of that neighborhood.
In a future piece, I’ll compare crime and incarceration rates from the 1970’s to present day to further the importance of village child rearing. But I’ve written all that to say; mentorship is obviously more important than idol worship.
For instance, during the 1980’s, the great jobs mentioned all but dried up in America. The Buffalo inner city community was hit especially hard. Unfortunately, this loss of meaningful employment is when the seeds of despair began to grow in many black communities.
The fathers I mentioned as heroes in the black community were rendered powerless in many cases. The economic foundation of their existence was taken away without a chance to fight for it.
First, the outsourcing of good-paying blue-collar jobs crippled black America. Soon, its devastation affected every family that was a recipient of the life-changing opportunity it once provided.
Many families split up behind the loss of such sustainable income. Eventually, alcoholism and drug addiction sometimes crept in to medicate and dull the pain of such a financial loss.
All the while, the children of the village raised themselves in many instances. Many of the elders had died. Furthermore, some of the superhero fathers who were fortunate enough to retire migrated back to the South! The South had changed (somewhat) and the cost of living was affordable enough to live comfortably on your pension and social security.
As numbers of missing role models and male mentors in the cities increased, some of the village’s less mentored children jumped aboard the crack cocaine hiring trains.
I will not drag this on any further, what I will say is this; black men have to put more effort forth in young, black, male mentorship, period.
Sports programs serve their purpose but there is a need for everyday realistic black male mentorship. What do I mean by “realistic?” Most young men can grow up to be a responsible husband, father, community leader and mentor. These are realistic, attainable and noble goals.
With the correct mentorship and guidance one can learn a trade and open a business. Or they can graduate high school, community college, university college and become an upstanding citizen.
For me personally, I accomplished many of these goals and it was after I served in the United States Navy. A young man can follow in my footsteps way easier than filling in the shoes of a 1-in-5 million odds-beating famous athlete, actor, rapper, or social media influencer.
Again, I’m asking every black man in every community to lend a hand in mentorship.
Be it a local or national organization. Be it teaching a child to mow a lawn, shovel snow, or even a kind, encouraging word. Your participation can change or even save a life.
Before I conclude, there is a second African proverb that describes what happens when a village fails to raise its children. It goes like this.
“The child that is not embraced by the village will burn it down to feel its warmth.”
Mentorship is priceless, and it won’t cost you anything but time!
Subscribe to get early access to podcasts, events, and more!