Will youths find mentors on the streets or with you?

December 04, 2007|By Andre M. Davis

Whether we acknowledge it or not, all of us are mentors and models for the young people in our community just by being present in their lives.

I believe we must fully embrace this responsibility.

In my day job, one of the unfortunate but necessary tasks I must perform is criminal sentencing. Even in federal court, as well as in state juvenile and criminal court, many of the offenders are people who began at a young age to make bad decisions.

Yet many of these decisions would have been made differently if the young man or woman had had the benefit of alternative sources of information and insight - information and insight available only from mature, caring adults willing to offer it.

We all know that many young people in our community lack ready access to such adults. We also know what we as a community need to do about it.

Young people choose mentors and role models on the streets every day. Rarely will they obtain the tools needed to develop good judgment in that environment. Rather, they may be learning exactly the life choices that will become so detrimental to their lives - and to the well-being of the entire community.

Moreover, when I sentence a young offender to federal prison, you can bet that he or she will be "mentored" in the institution to which he or she is assigned. My state court colleagues agree. We must reach out to these young people in meaningful ways before they make bad decisions. In this way, we can actively reduce the number of incidences that destroy their lives and those of so many around them.

Baltimoreans, in all our wonderfully diverse and disparate lives, need to say "yes" to mentoring.

Every adult in this community owes it to all of us to make himself or herself an active mentor. Choose a school, an organization providing services to youth, or even a specific young person who could benefit from your counsel and friendship, and become a reliable friend, adviser and guide. Let's not continue to send young people off to be mentored by those who lack concern for their lives, their families and our community.

Do you agree with me that if you are not mentoring a young person, you are failing to live up to the legitimate expectations of our community?

Andre M. Davis, a federal judge, has been a leader and mentor with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Maryland, the Baltimore Urban Debate League and the Community Law in Action program. This article is posted at www.audaciousideas.org, a blog created by Open Society Institute-Baltimore to stimulate discussion about solutions to difficult problems in the city.

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