Interview via Black Male Achievement
Why/How did you decide to dedicate yourself to mentorship?
I have been fortunate to be surrounded by people in my life that regularly inspired, questioned and helped guide me to become the man I am today. They regularly planted seeds of influence to help me seek out solutions. I’ve been blessed to be in a unique situation of saving lives and impacting communities, both locally and globally. I am proud to be an Emergency Medicine physician. In the Emergency Dept (ED) we see patients with a wide range of medical problems, many of which are avoidable had there been a difference in certain resources. One of the things that really hit home to me was the issue of violence. Being a black man working in the ED and taking care of patients riddled with bullets, recently stabbed or beaten hits you at the core, especially when you personally know the patient from your neighborhood; when they look like you, your friends or family members. Violence is beyond a social problem, it is a public health problem that has some risk factors that can be changed and prevent senseless death. My team and I decided to do something about it, thus the birth of the KAVI program.
KAVI is an acronym for Kings Against Violence Initiative. We are a hospital, school and community based youth violence intervention, prevention and empowerment program working to create opportunities for young people injured as a result of violence or at risk to engage in violent behavior. The young people that we work with are some of the best and brightest minds I have seen and we are sure, given the right circumstances, support, tools and resources, these minds will continue to grow, thrive and create positive changes within our communities. At the present time, we only have programs in Brooklyn, NY; however, this issue of violence and how man/womankind deals with conflict is a global phenomenon and with continued support, our program will continue to expand but with always maintaining personal and collective empowerment as the guiding principles for which KAVI was created.
Why is mentorship important to young black boys?
Mentorship is important for every young person regardless of sex or race. The first mentors that many of us come in contact with are our parents. However, due to the dismemberment of the traditional black family, there is a key mentor often missing, the father. It’s very common nowadays to have a matriarch over the family. Young women see that figure and how she is able to take care of the family along with other day-to-day responsibilities. Eventually that young woman is able to see that it is possible to be a strong and responsible woman. With young black men, you rarely have a patriarch to look up to. More than 60% of the students we work with don’t have their fathers in their homes. When questioning our students it’s pretty common for a female parent to say, “don’t grow up to be like your father.” That child’s reference point for becoming a man is already rooted in the negative. Having positive male role models is a way to affirm the positive. This doesn’t mean that young men shouldn’t have women role models because they should. They should have a balance in the types of positive role models that are part of their lives.
One of the key risk factors for re-injury for young black men is lack of social support. With homicide being the # 1 cause of death for young black men aged 15-24, having mentorship is a way to improve and enhance that social and psychological support system.
Who mentored you growing up?
I had a lot of different mentors growing up. i.e. parents, grandparents, teachers, Boy Scout leaders, karate teachers etc. However, the mentor that stood out the most to me was my older cousin Jason. He was six years older than me and we were practically raised together. He liked hip-hop and rap so I gravitated to hip-hop and rap. He did well in school, so I wanted to do well in school. He ran track and won all sorts of medals and I too decided to run track (but didn’t get the plethora of medals he received lol). When he told me that I needed to stop eating certain foods because they would hurt my athletic performance and focus, I stopped eating them. When he came home from Morehouse College on vacation and was even politically charged and activist oriented, he told me I needed to make sure I was a “credit to my race.” I started reading more in depth about Malcolm X, W.E.B. Dubois when I was in high school at his recommendation and eventually I too went to Morehouse College with the believable idea that I was going to be a leader. Jason didn’t talk all the time but the words he said were profound and lasting. For someone who looked so young, he had a level of discipline that I had only read about in books. He led by example.