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NAACP national president stresses need for adult action to help children

The African American Network at FedEx is determined to give back to the community by impacting young lives through mentorship.

by Tarrin McGhee
Special to Tri-State Defender

The African American Network at FedEx is determined to give back to the community by impacting young lives through mentorship. That commitment was the underpinning for “The Power of Mentoring Forum” the group hosted at FedEx World Headquarters on Wednesday (Feb. 22).

 Ben Jealous
At a mentoring forum, NAACP National President and CEO Benjamin Jealous stressed that “Mentoring isn’t just about passing on lessons to children, it’s about fulfilling your responsibility as an adult…to make sure that the country you leave them is better than the one that you inherited.” (Photos by Shirley Jackson)

 
Memphis civil rights activists and icons, Dr. Maxine Smith (center) and the Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles (left), were lauded for their consistent involvement and commitment to advance the civil rights movement and the Memphis community.

 
The Soulsville Charter School Orchestra kicked off the forum with an uplifting rendition of “Celebrate” that had guests dancing in their seats and Flo Roach performed an arousing dramatic presentation on what it means to be black.

 
NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous (left) and African American Network at FedEx Chairman Willie Brooks at “The Power of Mentoring Forum.”

 
The New Tri-State Defender is celebrating its 61st year and this exhibit at the mentoring forum was designed to create a sense of an early newsroom.

The annual event is designed to increase cultural awareness, and to encourage FedEx employees and event attendees to learn more about the power of mentoring.

Benjamin Jealous, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), keynoted the 2012 forum, which saluted four heavyweights for enriching the lives of area youth, and for notable public service achievements.

Posthumous salutes went to former University of Memphis basketball star player and coach, Larry Finch, and to Lt. Colonel Luke Weathers, a Memphis-born member of the Tuskegee Airmen whose exploits are detailed in the movie “Red Tails.”

Memphis civil rights activists and icons, Dr. Maxine Smith and the Rev. Samuel Kyles, were lauded for their consistent involvement and commitment to advance the civil rights movement and their local community.

Prior to accepting her award, Smith – the former membership chair and executive secretary of the Memphis Chapter of the NAACP, a former educator and long-serving member of the Memphis City Schools board – referenced the video that highlighted her career.

“I guess they went to the Internet, I don’t know how they get in your business,” she joked. “But of all the things you saw about me, one of the most treasured moments is the mentoring team at my church. We tutored eight-year-old boys at schools around the city…don’t forget that kids still need this,” Smith said.

Following Smith, Cathy Ross, executive vice president and chief financial officer at FedEx, shared her perspective on the value of mentoring before introducing Jealous.

“We all have experiences, skills and talents that make us special,” said Ross. “Mentoring is a way to share those attributes. Ben Jealous benefited from a number of mentors, and his life and leadership are examples of the power of mentoring.”

The NAACP’s 17th president and chief executive officer, Jealous is the youngest person to hold the position in the organization’s100-plus year history. He reminded forum guests of the long and hard road traveled by those before him to ensure that African Americans of his generation and future generations would have opportunities to succeed. He also discussed what it would take for children in the U.S. to prosper in the 21st century.

“It’s possible to get what you’re fighting for and lose what you have all at the same time,” Jealous began. “When I was growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, my generation was treated like a bit of an exception. We were told that fighting was optional…your job is simply to reap what we have sown.”

“That worked pretty well for many of us, it’s worked pretty well for me, but I dare say it didn’t work well for most of us,” he said.

Jealous described the important roles that all adults and mentors can play in helping to confront the challenges of war, crime, poverty, incarceration rates and, most importantly, the condition of the nation’s economy and education system.

 “The state of affairs (in the U.S.) has real bearing on our role as parents, as adults, community leaders and as mentors,” Jealous said.

“Mentoring isn’t just about passing on lessons to children, it’s about fulfilling your responsibility as an adult in this country to make sure that the country you leave them is better than the one that you inherited. We have done that for generations in this country, in some ways it defines what it means to be a citizen of this United States.”

Jealous expressed concern about what awaits children if adults don’t take action to get involved now to protect the interests of all children.

 “Our young people may be the first to be born more in debt than our parents were. They may be the first to be born with less net worth than their parents had, may be first to be born more likely to go to prison than their parents were, and less likely to go to college,” he said.  

“Our responsibility right now is greater because the challenges are higher too.”

According to Jealous, outside of mentoring there are additional opportunities to address the challenges that children in America are confronting, opportunities to prevent roadblocks to children’s success, and ultimately the country’s success. To start, he believes that adults should be willing to talk about things that they don’t want to talk about, such as decreasing incarceration rates and the need to improve the country’s education system.

“We as a society have to make a choice to invest more in our aspirations for our children than our fears of other people’s children,” said Jealous.

“People ask how do we catch up, how do we bridge the (education) difference with us (the United States) and Japan? It’s simple. Just stop acting like we can afford to be so different,” he said. “Japan educates their children 230 days a year. In this country we’re lucky if it’s 180.”

Asked how to get adults to recognize the importance of doing what is right for all children and looking beyond what they need to do for their own, Jealous said that a big part of it is changing how we talk about education.

“The reality is that the biggest struggle in our country right now isn’t to make sure that black children can compete with white children, but that American children of all colors can compete with children of all colors from all countries on the planet. That’s what we have to get focused on,” he said.

Jealous concluded his keynote by sharing the NAACP’s plans to introduce an agenda this year that will focus on putting America back on track to being first in the world on issues of education, job creation and innovation. The agenda includes four main pillars that the organization will advocate for starting this spring: more time in the classroom, high quality teachers in every classroom, universal Pre-K and improving public health conditions for children across America.

 

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