I was asked by Alicia to speak about Big Brothers Big Sisters (BBBS).
I am a recent volunteer. My little brother is John.
But before I go on about my thoughts on John and BBBS I want to introduce myself a bit more. So, please bear with me for a minute.
What follows are my views, not necessarily those of the organization.
I want to explain just a little about myself, why I volunteered, what volunteering with BBBS means to me, and hopefully something I will have said will resonate with you and inspire you to do something that gives back to our community. Maybe you can relate or even better, have an eye-awakening revelation that stirs something within yourself. Those are always good.
First, for those who don’t know me I am a very proud parent of an amazing little girl and a boyfriend to a wonderful woman who not only puts up with me, but also is helping raise my daughter. Above all, my life centers round my family.
Beyond my family the next important thing to me are my morals and convictions. I hold very strong social, political and economic views. I am young, idealistic and I have a strong desire to change the world for the better. My paternal grandfather was a labor organizer so it must have rubbed off on me. In short, I am quite the radical.
Now, the word radical comes from the Latin word radix, which literally means "root."
To be radical about an issue means to address something at its root.
Most don’t see BBBS as radical but they are. At their core I believe them to be very radical. We don’t see it because our society has changed to such an extent that their work is as normal as breathing air. Much like we are beginning to see cultural attitudes change in regards to inter-racial couples or relations between men and women, and those of the same gender. The times are changing. Sometimes you don’t notice it until you reflect on it afterwards. My father always told me to look beyond your nose, and I think this is what he meant by that.
But, like I said, I am radical. What I feel defines my radicalism is something the British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, wrote in the prologue of his autobiography:
Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.
I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy – ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness–that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what–at last–I have found.
With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.
Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.
This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me.
As I look within our society I reflect on a popular Native American saying that goes something like this, "We do not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children."
Simply put: This world does not belong to us. It belongs to our children and if we can’t hand it over to them in a condition better than we received it then it should at least be in the same condition.
Personally, I am afraid this isn’t the case right now, and I would hope we all will take changing this very seriously. It frightens me to contemplate leaving behind a degraded environment with collapsed ecosystems and political and economic institutions that deprive too many of us of a quality of living, not because it’s unaffordable, but because the necessities of life are treated as commodities sold on a cruel, heartless and stale market.
So as we develop popular movements that address environmental, political and economic issues we also must turn to social issues and look at new ways of forging new social relations so as to better train ourselves, our successors, and hopefully leave behind a better world.
I feel this is where BBBS comes in.
We are only as strong as our weakest link and there is nothing weaker and more fragile than disadvantaged children.
We owe it to them to give them the best guidance we can.
These children did not ask to be raised without a parent or older sibling in which to look up to. They didn’t ask to be limited by their parent’s predisposition, whether it is a time consuming job or physical disability.
Studies have shown that a child raised in wealth will most likely continue to live in wealth long after growing up. Likewise, a child raised in poverty will most likely continue to live in poverty long after growing up.
Of course this is not an absolute. The children are often at a disadvantage of some kind or another but that doesn’t mean it must remain so. What BBBS does is provide mentors to them for the purpose of giving them an advantage. We are here to be a friend to them, to listen to them, but most importantly we are here to give them the one thing all children need: time.
I want to end with the story of my little brother, John.
John is nine years old.
He lives in an apartment with his grandmother and disabled mother. Apparently his mother hurt her back in a car accident before he was born.
John’s father died of heart complications when he was only three years old, and he is an only child.
John spends most of his time in an apartment in South West Arlington playing his Xbox and eating Sonic.
John is a very sweet kid. He is very well mannered and in a matter of moments you get the distinct impression that he is aching for some time and attention.
But, here is the part I learned when I met him that troubles me the most, and the fellas need to pay close attention.
He had been on a waiting list for more than two years!
Apparently, this is the average for boys. Why? Because, there are not enough male volunteers willing to set aside four hours a month to help them. This is a serious indictment to us men.
When I signed up for BBBS I had no idea of this. I had heard a sociologist say that this organization is one of the most important life-changing groups we have and I decided to volunteer.
For incentives BBBS offers plenty of activities for the volunteers and their little brothers and sisters, usually at no charge to the volunteer. But these are just incentives and not the necessity. What is necessary is: our time, our patience, our friendship and an understanding ear.
So, in closing I would like to appeal to you – mostly the men – to weigh your priorities and to see if you have the available time to give back to your communities and help those who are less fortunate than you in hopes that you can not only change a life for the better, but to leave behind a residue for a new and better world.