By Dr. Lisa M. Coffey
I have coached cheerleading in the community where I lived and raised my family for 27 years. I have met lifelong friends through this endeavor, mentored the youth, built a community ambassador program, cultivated future leaders, and honed my student athletes' transferrable skills. I consider my opportunity to coach and make a difference in their lives a privilege. Therefore, I do not take my role in the student-athletes lives lightly. Yet, the laborious work is not easy and can be emotionally draining at times.
Over the past ten years, I can vividly recall the stench of death that shreds the joy from my cheer teams. Senseless acts of violence by gunshot killings are taking the lives of teenagers in our community. Unfortunately, rival communities are losing students to gun violence as well. There have also been drug overdoses, car accidents, and suicides. It seems as if every year, I am counseling my teams through the loss of a classmate, brother, friend, and or student-athlete. As I write this blog, I am broken because we are in another crisis involving gun violence, death, and an upcoming vigil and funeral of an innocent 15-year-old. How many more vigils and funerals will I have to attend? The thought, question, and answer scare me.
Never did I imagine that our season would halt due to gun violence. However, as we navigate the pandemic and the new Delta variant of COVID, I would not have been surprised if cheerleading participation changed due to the virus. Yet, we should be on the sidelines making memories and not worrying about our safety and security. After all, it is high school football. However, unfortunately, this is the climate in which we live today.
I wrestle with leadership accountability (parents/mentors/support systems) and how community leaders (politicians/educators/non-profits) can take back our communities from the at-risk population. How do we swing the pendulum in a positive direction to derail the violence and senseless deaths? I know there is not an all-inclusive solution, but we have to do something.
In 2009, Cavell, DuBois, Karcher, Keller and Rhodes wrote, "mentoring the next generation of youth is critical to the future health and prosperity of our nation. Yet, millions of young people are currently growing up without the guidance and support of parents or others that is needed to prepare them to become well- adjusted and contributing members of society." Has anything changed in 12 years?
I write about the value of parenting relationships and mentoring relationships in my book iDid and uCan 2. The first pillar in the book is the foundation pillar. The foundation is where we develop our morals, values, and integrity. The foundation is the core of our lives and allows us to build trust, interpersonal relationships, and decision-making tools. During our crucial years, we are guided and influenced by our parents and support systems. The absence of parental guidance and an active support system opens the door for vulnerability to unruly behaviors. Therefore, those that can need to reach out to at-risk youth mentoring programs to cultivate mentor/mentee relationships to:
· Bridge the gap in those families lacking positive relationships
· Help improve the mentees self-esteem and outlook (break the cycle)
· Help the mentee develop better interpersonal relationships with family, peers, and their support system.
· Help the mentee improve academic preparedness and performance.
· Help the mentee reduce at-risk behaviors.
· Show the mentee a positive and loving environment from your life and surroundings.
We need to be the positive influence we want to see in the world. I hope this post stimulates conversations and actions that strengthen our commitments to help the at-risk population and begin the process of taking back our communities.
Key Take Away:
What are you doing to make a difference? If you are in a position to be a mentor and do nothing you are failing our youth. Let's focus our attention on the at-risk community. Get involved! It is a matter of life or death!
Cavell, T., Dubois, D., Karcher, M., Keller, T., & Rhodes, J. (2009). Strengthening Mentoring Opportunities for At Risk Youth.
© 2021 Lisa M. Coffey