The task for the day was to listen to a story of a particular Black historic figure who had to over come obstacles in his way in order to achieve success. Upon listening to the story each mentoree was to identify a particular goal in his own life and then write a paragraph that detailed this goal and how he was going to achieve it.
Throughout the class there was one young guy who had a bad attitude all classroom long. I was at the front of the class as was he and thus I stayed on him throughout the session. He would lay his head on the table, put his arms inside of his shirt, curl his legs and feet upon the chair, grumble when someone other than him was picked to answer a question. This was not a good day for him.
When the written part of the assignment was initiated he refused to do it. He instead drew a face on the paper and then pointed at me. When I asked him "So what is your goal?" He said "NOTHING". "When I grow up I want to be Nothing."
So I asked him "What happens when your mother sees that you are 20 years old and doing 'nothing' and decides to put you out of her house?". He said "I'll go to a homeless shelter to live". I said "OK - what happens after you are living in the shelter for 2 years and then a woman and her kids who's house burned down need a place to stay and the shelter decides to give a person who NEEDS HELP your living space and thus puts you out?". I won't mention what he said - because he was just being difficult - but I had to tell him "The police would be there and they'd lock you up".
I told him that I was going to do my own goal story using "My Gold Is NOTHING" as a theme. I got a piece of paper and started to write my own story, just the others had done.
All of the other kids got into the front of the class and read their goal. By that time even the troublemaker had scratched a few sentences on the paper. I told him that as a 3rd grader he should be able to write far more than he did. Instead he chose to pout around and not be serious about the exercise.
After all of the other kids had finished I told everyone that I had a comedic goal that I would like to read out to them in honor of one of their program-mates who was having a bad day.
Here is what I wronte:
My Goal Is Nothing
When I grow up I want to have the goal of NOTHING.
I plan to watch television all day long and play with the XBox, Playstation and Wii that my mother bought for me. She will cook for me when I am hungry. I will have it made despite having the goal of NOTHING.
When I am 20 years old I plan to maintain my goal of NOTHING.
By this time, however, the people around me will put pressure on me to change my goal away from NOTHING because my goal will impact their goals.
My mother will say to me that a 20 year old should be responsible because he is no longer a child. He is a MAN. She will ask me to pay the rent and pay for the food that I eat. Like she expects a MAN to do.
The girl that I like will want me to take her out to eat and to the movies and to have a car to ride in. She will see that my goal of NOTHING does not fit with her goals. She will ask me to change my goal of NOTHING. She may decide that it is in her best interests to go find another man who has goals that are just like hers.
The people around me who really love me will force me to see that my goal of NOTHING is not a valid goal to have. The pressure that they put upon me to adopt better goals is them showing me that they love me and that I have the capability to do more than NOTHING.
I like interacting with these young men in this program. (ages 4 to 12) They think like my own son does and frequently have to be coaxed into compliance just as he does at times. I can use the same techniques of "thinking one step ahead of them" just the same. When you show that you are more stubborn than they are and that their only option is to do what you suggest - they will usually comply.
Unfortunately the majority of these boys don't have the constant presence of a strong male father figure resident in their lives.
It would be futile for me to merely engage with the room full of young Black boys in this room while remaining silent about the patterns of behaviors of the ADULTS who are charged with the task of "human resource management" but are not effectively doing so to achieve a more constructive end. Their mothers are to be credited for what they do despite the challenges. Sadly too many of their fathers are "M.I.A."