Forging a Nation, One Strong Youth at a Time

April 16, 2014

A young activist weighs in on My Brother's Keeper, the new federal initiative to support young men of color.

As long as I could remember I dreamed of climbing the ladder of success. To rise up out of poverty, to provide for myself, to provide for my family--but more importantly, to be able to protect those that I care about from the struggles of poverty.

Being in poverty is stressful. There is no worse feeling than absolutely needing something and not being able to afford it. You have to make tough choices when you live in poverty. Some choices can be as drastic as choosing between being late on your rent or fixing your car that just broke down. You have to have transportation to work and yet you have to have a place to sleep. You have to be able to critically evaluate and weigh all aspects of your life at all times.

"We Start Out Like Iron Ore"

There are really just two paths for your life when you face poverty and rough circumstances. We all start out like an iron ore. We soon become molded by our experiences; we either become perfectly tempered into hard steel or we're not tempered properly and become too brittle. 

If you become steel, everything suddenly changes. You are able to handle the stresses of your life, able to flourish in your situation and make the hard choices that you need to. You’re able to reach for and make the best of every opportunity and situation. You soon find yourself stepping up and stepping forward.

However, if you don’t have the right factors in your life, you don’t become tempered properly. The iron is too brittle and it snaps. It can’t handle the outside forces. When you’re on this path, you’re not able to cope and make the hard decisions in your life; you’re not able to thrive in your environment. You’re not able to make the best of every opportunity and situation. The majority of young people on this pathway enter into a perpetual cycle of disjunction and dysfunction, where their thoughts and actions don’t line up. They don’t have the right trains of thought; they repeatedly make wrong choices and it all compounds. Many people on this path end up struggling with substance abuse in some form or another.

Poverty means not just a a lack of money but a lack of resources of every kind. Information and reliable people are scarce.

But this outcome isn’t necessary and can be prevented.

To continue the analogy: The key difference between the two results is the way the metal is tempered, the outside factors of one’s life. When you live in poverty or you’re facing a rough circumstance, it's not just a lack of money but a lack of resources of every kind. Information and reliable people are scarce and even the most trivial of things becomes difficult.

Who do you turn to in your life when you try to do better and you’re in uncharted waters? Those around you know only know the steps that led up to their lives.

Say you want to do more, to be more, how do you walk in a new path without a role model or someone to help direct you? It just doesn’t happen. Most get lost along the way or end up settling and letting their situation get the best of them.

However, for those that succeed and become tempered steel, it’s because they had the “Triple Threat” against poverty in their lives: People who are Caring, Competent and Compassionate people (Triple-C). These are people that they can turn to, people they can confide in. These are people who will encourage and help them discern the best paths to take.

No One Does it Alone

We can’t do it alone. The people who succeed don't do it alone. Each person’s journey in life is not a solo act. It involves many people, influencing us, shaping us, molding us and giving us a hand up when need be.

How can we succeed as a nation if we are not UNITED as a people?

We NEED to be sociable; We NEED to be open to those around us. And we need this kind of Triple-C support. In short, we need mentoring.

As a Member of the National Council of Young Leaders, as a graduate of YouthBuild in Jackson, Kentucky, as a citizen of the United States of America, as a young man who was born into poverty who has climbed his way into the working class, I openly and positively endorse all forms of mentoring. This includes both formal and informal forms of mentoring. My life has been a journey and I can easily name ten people that have greatly influenced my life, who have helped put me here where I am today.

It’s so important that my fellow members of the National Council of Young Leaders and I came together and made increasing all forms of mentoring as one of our top six immediate Recommendations to increase opportunity and decrease poverty in America. These aren’t just recommendations but actual solutions to some of the problems that we are facing.

These ideas got a big endorsement  in the form of the My Brother’s Keeper initiative that President Obama recently championed.

I have never been more excited and optimistic than I have been since he publicly announced the initiative. I believe it’s a fantastic idea with values that hold true for all of us: Positive Meaningful Relationships Change Lives.

Formal and Informal mentors constitute the Triple Treat and having the Triple Treat. With caring, competent, and cpeople in our lives, we will deemololish sh poverty and rise up and bask in the light of success together.

The entrepreneur Jim Rohn said it best: “One person doesn’t make a family. One Person doesn’t make a business. One person doesn’t make a corporation. One person doesn’t make a community. One person doesn’t make a nation. It takes all of us to make a dynamic economy, a nation second to none. It takes all of us to make the churches, to make the economy run. It takes all of us to make the possibilities."

So let’s go out there and be someone’s Triple Threat against poverty; let’s be someone’s support; let’s be someone’s Opportunity; let’s come together and be a community, let’s come together and be a nation, let’s come together and be UNITED!

Adam Strong is a student at the University of Kentucky and a member of the National Council of Young Leaders. He also serves as a teacher's aide for the YouthBuild Hazard program and is an AmeriCorps member.  



Your turn: Share your reactions to Adam's post and/or to My Brother's Keeper in the Comments section below.


Adam Strong




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