Helping Youth Find Their Greatness
“I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside. Give them a sense of pride to make it easier.”
— Linda Creed & Michael Masser, songwriters of “Greatest Love of All,” famously performed by Whitney Houston
I remember growing up, wanting to be a woman who wore suits and high heels. I wanted to be successful. Greatness was all around me. It was on TV, at my school. I knew it was my destiny. I watched my mother dress for work, then come home from work to go to school. I attended college fairs with my oldest brother and still remember the day he went to college. I was intrigued by the campus. I watched my sister beat the odds, being a teenage mom and graduating with honors from U of M.
Attending Howard University only solidified my belief in my greatness. Seeing so many men and women from different backgrounds, who looked like me, do amazing things, motivated me. I remember the feeling I felt when a friend told me that college was paid for by her parents. I remember the feeling when Amani told me her mom was becoming a judge. I remember feeling like, “WOW.” All of these memories forced me to step into my own greatness!
What I know about greatness is that once you touch it, you need it. Once it becomes a part of you, once you see it, it becomes hard to unsee it. As an adult, I watch TV, I look at social media, and I wonder: are our children even getting to see greatness? Or is greatness hidden by perfection that is posted on the internet? Is it mixed up in reality TV that is 90 percent fiction? Is it hidden behind scantily clad women who are promising youth fame instead of purpose? Or is greatness mixed up with laziness combined with fear? The fear of being great or the fear of beating the odds?
Why exactly do children need mentors?
Children need mentors because they need to understand how possible it is to actually ‘do it.’ Not just any mentor, they need mentors who they can relate too. Children need mentors who they can call on when their home lives are impacting their schooling. Representation matters. When you are only used to seeing people barely work, with little education or when you are a young black man who only knows men or women in prison, it is important to be exposed to those who look like you that can show you a different way. It matters that children of color see adults of color do amazing things.
Why do you always talk about color?
It has been important for me that someone of color represents my little cousins, my nieces, and my nephews. I remember having positive representatives in my life and knowing that I wanted more. Not because I didn’t have anything, simply because I realized that things are small in comparison to knowledge. So many of my peers with children want to give their children everything they never had — but what they never had were the freshest Jordan’s or the newest designer clothes. I understand that way of thinking, giving them more. But I believe that more needs to turn into giving our children more books, more time to learn, more tutoring, more STEM programs, and more of all the things that hold us behind in the real world.
I listen to young black children talk at schools in Detroit, and I listen to their counterparts in the suburbs. Our children face something different. I hear so many conversations from “adult-children.” An adult-child is a child that unfortunately has to play the role of an adult because of the situations and circumstances of their living situation or parents’ lifestyle, the lifestyle that was not chosen by them but is their reality. It is not money that puts us ahead. It is not our “fly clothes” or our “fancy shoes.” It is our intellect. It is our ability to see the bigger picture. It is about escaping our reality and envisioning our futures. How many children can see their future? Talk about their future? How many children know that they can have a future? Mentors are there to show them a way out, they are there to show them possibilities and explain to them that possibilities are endless. Our children need to know that they can be more!
Why me? Because simply put: I understand. I don’t live a perfect life where I can’t understand why ‘it is what it is.’ I am a part of this city. I know what our youth face every day, at school, at home, in the streets, and in the social media world. I am not just some adult who is coming in and telling them what they have to do. I am from their neighborhood, I am a part of their family. I am no different than them. But I made it. I made it for every young person of color to see how easy it can be. I must be honest, it was not always easy. There were days when I wanted to give up, there are days when I felt stuck. But for all those days I felt like that, the days I got my diplomas were the days I finally felt like I truly achieved something. I opened the doors to my future and I decided to never look back.
I choose to be a mentor because I want children of color to see greatness. I want children of color to see career options. I truly believe children are the future. There is no community building if you refuse to build up the people in the community. How can we make leaders out of children when we don’t give them direction? When we don’t show them leaders who look like them?
The poverty threshold for a family of four is $24,563. Fourty-seven percent of adults in Detroit, Michigan are “functionally illiterate,” meaning they have trouble with reading, speaking, writing and computational skills.
We must do better, we must stand up and fight for our children. Let them know they can escape. Let them know they can make it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jasmin Barnett is the founder of Ladies in Training, an organization that empowers girls ages 10-18 to make appropriate lifestyle choices, build self-confidence and self-esteem, and become contributing members of their community.
Barnett received her Bachelor of Arts from Howard University in Political Science and African American Studies, and a Master of Arts in Community Development and Social Justice from Marygrove College. An active and dedicated member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, Jasmin believes the first step in finding one’s purpose is to “change your words and watch how your life changes with them.”