Several years ago I became a mentor for the Big Brothers Big sisters of New york City. after a training program, I was matched with an incredible little Brother who had a troubled background. each year, an award is given to New york City’s Best Mentor. The recipient is someone who displays the qualities of "Teaching by example" and "encouraging greatness" in his charge. I was not that mentor.
Within the first three months after being matched with my little, I’d lost him, encouraged lewd sexual behavior with women and almost turned him into a criminal.
The first time we hung out everything went great and I got him back to his apartment building in one piece. The problem is I didn’t walk him in to his apartment. I parted with him in his lobby on the lower east side assuming he couldn’t get lost between there and his door. I walked home feeling I was already making a difference.
That night, his guardian called to ask me where he was. “In the apartment,” I told her, wondering how she couldn’t find an 11-year-old in a tiny one bedroom. “No he’s not,” she argued. Before suggesting she check under the couch, I decided to take her word for it. Frantically, I ran back to the les and formed a one-man search party. luckily, close to midnight, he came back to the apartment, having wandered off to play basketball with some friends.
There was also the time on his 12th birthday when I let him pick out a CD as a gift. He chose a Nas album. I was vaguely familiar with the song “I Know I Can” from its heavy rotation on MTv. The song’s message taught children they could be anything they wanted in life. I assumed Nas was like an urban version of Tony robbins and was proud of the positive effect I was having on my little’s decision making.
That night his guardian called again. “Hi, Ms. elliot. yeah, I got that for him—you don’t need to thank me.”
“Oh, you’re not calling to thank me?” “No, I didn’t see the giant ‘explicit lyrics’ sticker.”
“A song called what?” I was beginning to wonder which one of us needed the mentor.
I started to see that one of the hardest parts about mentoring is trying to set that perfect example, especially since there’s arguably no such thing. so when I was with my little, I did my best not to break even the smallest of social rules. This meant not crossing the street until the walk signal flashed and no “sampling” gummy worms from the candy store.
After the film let out, we had a few hours to kill before he had to be
home, so he asked me if we could sneak into another flick. I had snuck
into movies countless times when I was his age, so my initial reaction
was excitement. Then I remembered my role.
For example, there was the dilemma I was faced with one rainy weekend after taking my little to see a movie. after the film let out, we had a few hours to kill before he had to be home, so he asked me if we could sneak into another flick. I had snuck into movies countless times when I was his age, so my initial reaction was excitement. Then I remembered my role. “No. It is wrong to sneak into a movie,” I forced myself to say, sounding like a 1950s sitcom mother. “We can get back in line and buy two more tickets.” so we did. after that, I started incorporating a lesson each time we hung out. I decided to make that day’s lesson “honesty.”
On his 14th birthday we went to see an expensive 3-D movie. at that time, my bank account was quickly dwindling since my girlfriend had moved out and I was stuck paying all the rent. I was looking to save money any way I could, so when we reached the box office window, I asked the elderly cashier for one adult and one child ticket. I was hoping she wouldn’t notice the mustache my little had been sporting. "He’s a kid?" she asked. "We’re all somebody’s kid," I said, hoping my pathetic attempt at humor might win her heart.
"How old are you, son?" she asked him. "Fourteen." "Two adults for Avatar," she said before handing us tickets and 3-D glasses.
My little then turned to me and said, "Hypocrite. We couldn’t sneak into a movie that one time, but we can lie to get in cheaper?" "That was two years ago. You remember that?" I asked.
"Yeah, I remember a lot of the lessons you teach me. You’re a great big brother. The best."
He threatened to tell our case manager that I tried to make him an unwilling accomplice to a crime if I didn’t buy him an extra large popcorn. That’s when I decided that day’s lesson would be "extortion."