Since MLK Day, our weekly mentoring lunch sessions have taken a fascinating turn. At our first session after the Holiday, I asked all 15 of our young men if, why, or how the Holiday was significant to them. I was curious to inquire about the civil rights movement and the slain civil rights leader’s relevance in their lives.
Everyone was quick to defend the significance of the relationship with their lives and King’s life and legacy. I was peppered with quick recitations of historical facts about Dr. King. I sighed when I began to come to the realization that I would hear no in-depth analysis of the Civil Rights Movement, any familiarity with its other activists and personalities, or its relationship to the current state of these 15 young African-American male high school students.
In an effort to provide some perspective, I shared with them my experiences of enduring hostility as a junior high school student in 1971, at the height of the desegregation order and school busing in Cleveland, Ohio. In an effort to challenge them, I asked of their familiarity with the names, Kenneth I. Chenault and Reginald Lewis. “Who?” They asked. I explained that Mr. Chenault was the CEO and Chairman of American Express and the third ever African-American male to head a Fortune 500 Company. I explained further that Reginald Lewis was the richest African-American male in the 1980’s, a Wall Street businessman and financier, who had been prior to an early death the CEO of Beatrice Foods.
Then some magic began to happen, faces lit up as they heard of these 2 men, “why don’t we learn this kind of thing in school?”………. “I want to learn more.”
It’s your responsibility I explained. If you want to know something, research it, find out everything you can on your own. A couple of them replied, “man that’s not fair.”
“Will you teach us?,” several asked.
Doc and I responded that we would and that we would start at our next Thursday session to teach them about the history and achievements of Africans and African-Americans. We are starting this Thursday with Egypt and we will gradually in the weeks ahead bring them up to today. I can’t wait to see their faces when they find out about the Egyptian origins of mathematics, surgery, complex architecture, and so much more!
They really are eager to learn. I am like them, I guess; I wonder why don’t they hear more of this in school? Maybe just maybe, our young men would emulate fewer rappers, entertainers, or athletes, and a few more Chenaults and maybe just maybe a Lewis or two!
Read, learn, and share…Have a Family Meeting!