By Lenore T. Adkins, Special to the AFRO

At the Oct. 23 annual fundraiser and reception for National Capital Area CARES, an organization that mentors impoverished Black teenagers in the District, author and Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson called on Black people of privilege to remember and support the children who need them.

“In our community, we have contributed to the dismissal of our own children.  . . . (for) how they dress, how they talk – they ain’t up to standard,” Dyson said. “That’s your job is to get ‘em up to standard. It’s our job to bring them to where they need to be not by dismissing them, but by engaging them where they are.”

Students from the Richard Wright Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts in Southeast, D.C., the school NCA Cares is partnering with for a mentoring program for girls. (Courtesy Photo)

Meanwhile, NCA CARES is evolving from a mentor recruitment to program implementation, said Amera Bilal, the program development manager. They’ve partnered with Richard Wright Public Charter School for Journalism and Media Arts in Southeast D.C. to build a mentoring program for girls.

The program, scheduled to launch in the spring, would pair a cohort of between 10 and 20 girls with mentors to develop their self-esteem, study skills, and relational schools to build community with young people. Later, the program would expand and include boys.

“Up until this point, we were helping our partners find mentors.” Bilal said. “Now, we are taking some of those mentors to power our program.”

Organizers say Black mentors are especially needed now.

In 2010, one in nine African-American children had at least one parent in prison, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts. And according to The Washington Post, Black fourth and eighth graders in the District made no significant gains on national math and reading tests last year. At the same time, the achievement gap between White and students of color continues to persist.

Beyond that, Black students in the District of Columbia Public Schools are nearly eight times more likely to receive out of school suspensions than White students, according to the 2016-17 State of School Discipline Report released by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. That school year, Black students comprised 67.7 of the enrolled population but accounted for 95.3 percent of all expelled students, according to the report.

NCA CARES, a nonprofit, is one of 57 affiliates of National CARES Mentoring Movement. The national group, founded by Susan L. Taylor, editor emeritus of Essence magazine, recruits Black men and women to mentor and nurture underprivileged Black children while seeing to it that kids achieve social, academic, and emotional success.

“You just never know what one little thing can do to just change someone’s life – you know, one little phone call, just picking them up from schools giving them a ride home just to have a conversation,” said Sheila Harrison, a mentor for four years. “It’s amazing how little things can really change someone’s life.”

National Capital Area CARES’ long-term goals include keeping kids in school, off drugs, out of gangs and preventing teen pregnancies. It has recruited more than 300 volunteer mentors for teens in D.C. and Prince George’s County. The fundraiser supported those efforts.

“I do this work because I can,” Taylor said. “. . . This is on our watch and these are our children.”