The Support of a Mentor

Last week I was driving somewhere (probably carting my kids from one activity or another), and I had the good fortune to hear the following story on our local NPR station, WUNC.  I previously posted  about the first installment of this excellent series from the Summer Youth Radio Institute, and this one is just as timely and moving.

I’ve been reading quite a bit about the impact of mentors on our young people and studying research by social scientists who have examined the “data points,” etc., but this piece hits home in a way that academic facts and statistics cannot – especially if you listen to the audio and hear the earnest, hopeful voice of Dontá McCormick (photo above).

Host: It’s Friday and time for the next installment from our series from the WUNC Summer Youth Radio Institute. Donta McCormick was one of our youth reporters this summer. He and his brother grew up in North Durham — in neighborhoods where most of their friends never made it out of high school. But as Donta reports — the support of a mentor helped make sure his brother’s path would be different from their friends.

Dontá McCormick: My younger brother Keron was a diamond in the rough, but he needed guidance. He ended up finding it at the Boys & Girls Club of Durham. That’s where he met his mentor, Joshua Dorsett.

Keron Downey: He kept me out the streets he kept my head straight and now he’s doing the same for my two little brothers.

Dontá McCormick: Keron says the four worst years of his life were spent living in apartments on Lowry St. I lived with him there for one of those years. Lowry St. was a place where waking up to gun fire as an alarm clock was a normal thing, and all reisdents were possible targets for forcible searches by the police. We went back there recently and found a construction crew renovating all the buildings. Keron says these are needed repairs after everything that happened there.

Keron Downey: If you lived on Lowry St. as long as I lived on Lowry St. you probably seen it all or done it all.

Dontá McCormick: One evening while we were living there, Keron and I were playing video games inside our apartment. All of a sudden, we heard multiple gun shots outside–then screaming and crying.

Keron Downey: And when we came outside my cousin was laying on the ground holding her leg and right there where they are building a new fence at it use to be a fence right there so she was sitting down right there holding her leg and when we came over there it was a big blood pool just like a big pool of blood right there on ther ground.

Dontá McCormick: Besides facing frequent violence, we also had to find ways to survive without much money .We once went six months without electicity or water because we couldn’t pay the bills. Fortunately, even on Lowry St., we still had some family and friends who would help us when ever we really needed it.

Keron Downey: That house right there it was a woman who use to stay there, and my mom use to ask her, could we use the faucet so we could fill up these big buckets full of water. So everytime we needed water i had to go over there and fill up the big buckets full of water and bring it all the way back. And we had like six buckets every day before I go to school and then three or four times when I got out of school.

Dontá McCormick: Keron and I always lived in dangerous communities and we were frequently getting evicted–we call it getting padlocked–that is when we came home to find the landlord and the sheriff puting us out. So we would go somewhere we knew we could enjoy ourselves and be around people we trusted.

Keron Downey: Every time we got padlocked, the first thing I would do is come to the Boys and Girls Club, because I knew that once I got here I would be fed, I wouldnt have to worry about geting into no trouble, and also that I could have fun here.

Dontá McCormick: Joshua Dorsett, the current director of the Boys and Girls Club, was the biggest supporter of Keron during this time. Dorsett was a graduate student at central when he met keron. He convinced him to start coming around to improve his basketball skills, which Keron admits needed work.

Joshua Dorsett: So I told him, you know, if you stay in school and go to school and you meet the requirements that me and him put in place, after all of that me and you will work on basketball and work on getting your game better.

Dontá McCormick: Dorsett became an important mentor and role model for Keron. He was there for Keron when no on else was.

Keron Downey: He knew the situation that was going on at home so whenever I needed some extra money or whenever I needed some food or even a place to lay my head, he was always there.

Dontá McCormick: Dorsett gives Keron a lot of credit, too. He says he always listened to his advice and was willing to put in extra work to get where he wanted to be.

Joshua Dorsett: Well, I knew his story as a fourteen year old boy ….he was forced to do grown man things, and he had two younger brothers under him and when you saw them you saw him ,you know he made sure they ate a snack, he made sure they ate. So that right there showed what type of work ethic he had and also he volunteered every summer for forty hours a week.

Dontá McCormick: Keron has gone from attending the Club, to volunteering there, to working as a full-time summer counselor. Now he mentors kids that are growing up in the same neighborhoods we used to live in. One of them is our little cousin, Tyrone McNeil.

Tyrone McNeil: If we like get in trouble he would tell us the right things to do and like help us so we dont make the wrong choices

Dontá McCormick: Now a sophomore at Winston-Salem State University, Keron wants to use his degree to become a teacher here in durham.

Keron Downey: And maybe I could help change a kid’s life or I could be that person that that kid looks up to and he look at me and be like if it wasnt for Mr. Downey, I wouldn’t be in the place I am today.

Dontá McCormick: Keron wants to give to others what Joshua Dorsett gave to him. And make a difference in a kid’s life even though they never had a chance. With the WUNC Summer Youth Radio Institute, I’m Dontá McCormick, North Carolina Public Radio WUNC.

Donta McCormick is 21 years old. He graduated from Northern High School last June. Donta tells us he has a new part-time job and will be attending Durham Tech in the Fall.

Have you worked as a mentor?  Have you had an influential mentor yourself?  Please share your thoughts in the comments!

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About Tamar Birckhead

School of Law
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2 Responses to The Support of a Mentor

  1. I mentor young writers through a program at Vancouver Schools. Although I enjoy it, I am critical of the program because it is considered and “enrichment” program and thus aimed at kids who have been designated as “gifted”. As you can imagine these are mostly affluent “west side” kids, and although there is a racial mix in the program (which offers mentors in all fields such as science, robotics, design etc) the writing program tends to be pretty white.

    This year I’m hoping I can convince them to expand the writing program at least (and maybe fine and performing arts) to kids who are not “gifted”. I have encountered many students over the years who struggle academically but are extremely gifted writers/poets/rappers/songwriters. Since these are skills that are seldom assessed in school most of these kids are never noticed.

    This is a long winded way of expressing my belief that all kids have things that capture them and allow them to excel. Whether it is sports, a caring role, arts, fundraising, “domestic” skills such as cooking, entrepreneurial skills or imaginative expression. These are things that rarely make it into school curricula. These are things that mentors can foster.

    • tbirckhe says:

      Thanks so much for your comment — excellent point. And thanks for reading and supporting the Juvenile Justice Blog!

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