By Sylvia Dunnavant Hines
Homelessness, homicides, and hopelessness among Black youth are causing corporations and concerned community members to focus on mentorship.
According to the US Justice Department, at current levels of incarceration, a Black male in the United States today has greater than a 1 in 4 chance of going to prison during his lifetime. Statistics like this have led the Witherite Law Group and 1-800-TruckWreck to focus on bringing Black male community leaders together to mentor Black boys.
“We have been participating in the mentoring of both school-age and high school kids for years,” said Amy Witherite leader of one of the largest female-owned personal injury law firms in the country, Witherite Law Group and 1-800-TruckWreck. “We have chosen to do that for a number of reasons. We believe that education is the best way to change family circumstances and to make generational changes.”
She elaborated, “Through education, you can go from renting an apartment to the rental of a home to some sort of home ownership. There is no doubt that education is the best way.
“We have dedicated ourselves for more than seven years to focus on kids from an educational standpoint. What we have learned as we have had partnerships at a variety of schools. It is also important that kids have the opportunity to learn life lessons. One of our programs, Dads of Dunbar is a breakfast between the male high school students and some of the lawyers and many community lawyers leaders in the Stop 6 area.”
The Dads of Dunbar Mentorship Program is a collaboration between Fort Worth ISD, community leaders, and the Witherite Law Group. This program brings dads and father figures from the community together to mentor high school students who may not have a supportive environment at home.
“I think it is a twofold effort,” explained Witherite. “Clearly, with our scholarship program we have hundreds of kids that we have helped to go to college or to go to a vocational school. Just seeing that progression to graduation in itself is extremely rewarding. But I also say what is extremely rewarding is when we have begun to support these kids from a mental health standpoint whether they are in elementary or middle school.” Talk about commitment.
“We step in when they don’t have clean clothes to wear,” she continued. “We provide those clothes and access to washers and dryers so that they can feel good about who they are. That is also why we do the back-to-school haircuts. We want kids to feel good about their inner selves. We do not solely focus just on grades. If you don’t take care of the whole person there are opportunities for these kids not to excel as much as they possibly could.”
Witherite is also working with Dr. Carlos L Walker, Sr., director for the Family Action Center, in an interactive program with the Fort Worth Police and high school students to establish a healthy relationship between the two groups.
“We want to establish a healthy environment to begin a relationship with the police and students. We understand that the police should be there to protect and help these kids move forward in life. We don’t want the kids just to see the police as the enemy,” said Witherite.
According to recent statics, 58.6% of all mentors are women, while 41.4% are men. The average age of an employed mentor is 41 years old. The most common ethnicity of mentors is White (61.7%), followed by Hispanic or Latino (15.5%), Black or African American (10.1%) and Asian (9.1%).
“One of our biggest challenges for all these programs is finding human capital volunteers. At our law firm, we have lawyers that dedicate time and show up for events and are available whether that is a Project 16 event or simply reading books to elementary school children or going to the Dads of Dunbar mentoring breakfast. Our team is incredibly giving up their time.”
For Witherite, there’s plenty to do and much more is needed.
“Quite frankly we need to do more, and the community needs to do more. If you could just give a couple of hours a month, you can really make an impact on children’s lives. With a small amount of time, you can develop a true positive mentoring relationship and it does not have to be all-consuming.”
Nicholas Smith, who started out in the mailroom and is now a paralegal with the Witherite Law Group, is one example of the impact that can be made when a local person gives back to the community.
“I am from the same community that Dunbar High School is in. When they were looking for someone to volunteer and show up, I stepped up to the plate,” said Smith. “I showed up and once I actually participated I kind of took it by the reigns and claimed it as my own personal thing. With me being from that community and knowing some of the kids that actually attended Dunbar High School it’s really became my own personal project.”
As a senior at the University of North Texas, Smith takes it as his responsibility to pour into young people in the community.
“With me coming from this community some of these kids are nephews, they are sons of people that I went to school with. It is very personal for me. The Witherite Law Group is committed to being an integral part of this community,” he said.
Research shows these mentoring relationships make a big difference to young people. A study published by The National Mentoring Partnership reports young adults with mentors are 55% more likely to enroll in college, 78% more likely to volunteer regularly, and 130% more likely to hold leadership positions.
According to Witherite, she is always looking into collaborations and partnerships.
“We probably work with over two dozen organizations around the Dallas area and also in Atlanta where we have an additional office,” said Witherite. “We are always looking for new partners where we can expand the financial reach tied to organizations with real money for real programs. Secondly, it is just the consistent presence of how our lawyers and our leaders show up to activities and give of their time. I think as we continue to increase both of those each year, we are winning and so are the kids.
What a victory!