LOS ANGELES — Dozens of young men gathered in Aspen Hall at Los Angeles Trade Technical College Feb. 23 to attend “A Time to Mentor,” a networking event that paired at-risk teens with community leaders for a day of listening, advice and mentoring.
Community activist Nason Buchanan, who organized the event, said that being mentored as a teen helped him tremendously by building his confidence and self-esteem. Buchanan is the president of DMTL Family, a nonprofit organization that helps at-risk youth.
“If one gets into a position to become a mentor, try to reach back and help a young person,” Buchanan told the audience.
Most of the teens attending are being raised in fatherless homes. According to the U. S. Census Bureau, a disproportionate number of black children under 18 live in single-parent homes. Juvenile crime, delinquency, teen pregnancy, teen drug abuse and the school dropout rate are linked to families without fathers.
Sheree Dawson brought her teenage son to the event and admitted that she was grateful that the mentoring event was being held.
“He needs a mentor,” said Dawson, who said her son attends Crenshaw High School. “I want to keep him on the right path.”
Serving as mentors were Terry Boykins, CEO of Street Positive, a nonprofit organization; Stinson Brown, a 30-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department who founded Brother II Brother; Clint Graham, a senior client partner at Twitter; Cornel Ward, a coach and a volunteer resource coordinator with Los Angeles County; and Cameron Williamson-Martin, a peer advocate for former President Barack Obama’s youth mentoring group My Brother’s Keeper.
Mentoring also changed the life of Williamson-Martin. Born and raised in South Los Angeles, he joined a gang as a teen.
“I sold drugs in middle school and was placed in foster care at 15. I didn’t have the right people guiding me to do the right thing,” he said.
Luckily, he met people who counseled him while he was in the foster care system.
“A lot of people in foster care talked to me and urged me to stay out of trouble,” said Williamson-Martin, who is currently a My Brother’s Keeper peer advocate in partnership with the LA County Library.
Boykins said that many young men have survived stressful and risky situations that they keep buried privately for years.
“Trauma affects our young black boys,” Boykins said. “We’ve got to stop asking these young men, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ and start asking, ‘What happened to you?’ Many of these young men have experienced multiple trauma in their lives.”
Leaning forward, he said, “Young men, I get it. But there are men in this room who will help you to overcome your trauma.”
Brown, a former LAPD drill instructor who facilitated a breakout session titled “How Good is Your Vision?” outlined several “traps” that could deter a young man’s path to success.
“Drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana or spending too much time on social media can become detrimental to your life,” he told the young men. “You’re giving up your soul and the destruction of your destiny in slow motion.”
Brown, who volunteered to mentor several young men attending the event, revealed that his life had been touched by gun violence. His only son was shot to death at 19.
“That particular day, I fell sick. I was shivering. I left work early, went home, took Theraflu and crawled into bed. In the morning, I checked my son’s bed, but he was not there,” he said.
Brown said that two policemen arrived at his door. They informed him that his son had been murdered.
“He went to a house party and was fatally shot by a gang member,” Brown said, adding that he was completely shattered by the news.
During his son’s funeral, Brown said he was quietly approached by a friend.
“He told me, ‘God took your son to give you hundreds of sons.’”
The words proved to be prophetic. Brown poured his grief into mentoring other young men through his organization, Brother II Brother.
“As a police officer, I’ve rushed to countless crime scenes where young black men had been shot,” he said. “Some had even taken their last breaths in my arms before they died.”
Andre Vickers, 48, a featured speaker and member of Chapter Two and Los Angeles City’s Gang Reduction Youth Development program, warned the young men to steer clear of gangs. He said he joined a gang at a young age that sent him hurtling down the wrong path.
“I wanted to be a gang banger since I was 10 years old because that’s all I ever saw in my neighborhood,” Vickers said, adding that his family members were members of a Bloods group called the Six Deuce Brims.
“I’ve seen a lot of death and drug use and I been to tons of funerals of my homeboys and home girls,” he said.
“I was a hurt person so I hurt a lot of people. The other gang members said, ‘You better not cry or show weakness. Get out there and get it.’”
The volatile gang life finally caught up with Vickers when he was shot one Christmas Eve by a rival gang member.
He eventually served 11 ½ years in prison.
“I thought I was defending my community but actually, I was an idiot,” he said.
Vickers turned his life around after leaving prison.
“I became an intervention worker to change some of the wrongs I had done because now I got kids. I’m worried that somebody out there could kill my children.”
Veronica Njodinizeh, one of the facilitators of the event, chaired a breakout session with the single mothers who had brought their sons.
“There was a lot of hurt revealed in that room,” said Njodinizeh, adding that several mothers echoed the sentiment that it was hard to raise a young black son on their own.
“The session turned into an impromptu support group,” Njodinizeh said. “They were determined to support and uplift their children.”
Jacqueline Leverette, an L. A. County probation officer, drove her two sons — Jeremiah, 13, and Lavelle, 18 — 65 miles from Lake Elsinore to attend the event.
A probation officer for 19 years, Leverette has experienced firsthand that youth without direction or guidance often became ensnared in the juvenile justice system.
Her son Jeremiah recalls the advice he heard that day.
“They said you are important and to follow your passion and to never give up,” he said.
Her other son Lavelle was glad that he was able to connect with several mentors.
“I’m happy that there are actually people out there that care about the young men and the community,” he said.
“Hopefully, they will build some lifelong connections with the mentors they met,” Leverette said.
By Shirley Hawkins