Bridging Generation Gaps to Inspire African-American Youth
Jessica Harper | 8/17/2010, 10:54 a.m.
A 2009 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) revealed that Black teens and young adults are more prone to violence than their White counterparts. Despite that alarming fact, mentoring and counseling groups like the District-based Evolutionary Elders (EE) continue to inspire African-American youth to excel personally and professionally.
Co-founder and author, Eugene Williams, Sr., said the organization fights the odds, by maintaining a positive outlook about the future of Black youth.
"We don't want to be bothered with defeatist attitudes," Williams, 68, said.
"Our goal is to work with mentors, counselors and organizations who have not given up on our children," the Clinton, Md., resident said.
Evolutionary Elders seeks to heal social ills that plague African-American young men and women by bridging generational gaps. Members close these gaps by using education and positive reinforcement to reach Black youth.
"We came together to forge this concept--soon-to-become-movement--because we were really upset at some of the things we saw in families and also in schools," Williams said.
Williams established Evolutionary Elders in spring 2010 with his long-time friend Wetzel Witten, a 67-year-old community organizer from Washington, D.C.
The two men bring together men and women, who were born in the 1930s and 1940s, grew up in the 1950s and became social revolutionaries in the 1960s to mentor and counsel young people and their families. These elders forfeit vacations in Miami to "liberate and elevate the thinking and actions" of Black youth.
"We are an African people, and Negritude represents our attitude," Witten said. "Therefore, we will never be senior citizens because senior citizens retire, Evolutionary Elders inspire."
Members inspire by venturing into schools, recreation centers and churches across the D.C. area with a two-pronged mission: to work with parents, guardians and educators to improve education (academics and athletics) and to teach Black youth about their history and respect for their elders.
"Whether anybody accepts it or not, our schools and families are in crisis and our children are caught up in this," Williams said.
"As we see it, if something is not done soon, we will see our schools dissolve and become worse off than they are now."
Now 10 members strong, counselors include an eclectic mix of Ph.D. holders and activists; mathematicians and wordsmiths; athletes and musicians--each of whom share their knowledge with young mentees.
Mary H. Johnson, a member of Evolutionary Elders, said psychological counseling warrants as much attention as academic tutoring.
"The highest compliment I have received since I began working with EE came from a student who was asked, 'Why do you go to the math center so often?' Do you know what he said in response to that? 'Because Dr. Johnson makes me feel like I'm somebody,'" Johnson said.
Johnson holds an Ed.D. in Mathematics Education from University of Maryland College Park and is married to Williams. The two founded Academic Resources Unlimited (ARU) in 2008. ARU is a non-profit that provides tutorial and communication services to high school students and educators.
Johnson said because many of the organization's mentees receive little encouragement at home, it is incumbent on the mentors to remind them of their worth.
"Our children fight so hard to feel accepted," Johnson said. "Sometimes all it takes is for them to meet someone who says, 'You can do it!'"
Ed Brown, creator of YouTube's social commentary program The Ed Brown Show, echoed Johnson's sentiment.
"Environment affects development," Brown said. "Some of these kids have no one who cares whether or not they succeed."
Brown's program covers topics ranging from politics to education, and featured guests include university presidents and local lawmakers.
He said the elders' experience is their greatest asset.
"A child might pay more attention to someone who is much older," Brown said. "An elder brings knowledge that other people don't have. So when an elder says, 'Study hard,' they listen."
Williams and Witten said several students have changed their behavior since coming under their tutelage.
"We mentored a 15-year-old boy, a very smart kid, who sold drugs. He told me, 'I never thought about the consequences.' So, I decided to give him a job designing our books," Williams said. "Now, he tells me he's staying out of trouble. On top of that, the work he produces for us is outstanding."
Evolutionary Elders collaborates with non-profit group Wise Educators.com and the Success and Learning Math Center in Upper Marlboro, Md., to provide quality tutoring and counseling services to their mentees.
"We don't want volunteers looking to benefit from the name, Evolutionary Elders. They must have a history of doing good things and want to continue to do that work," Williams said.
Elders interested in mentoring or counseling for Evolutionary Elders should contact Eugene Williams, Sr., at (301) 768-8316 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Wetzel Witten at Wit10men@verizon.net.