My work with youth started many years ago as a middle school teacher at Intermediate School 201 in East Harlem and then as a teacher in the Peace Corps. I still have a few of my of my former students from my college teaching days who tell me that I did good work. I even have a few students who date back to my first job in East Harlem who say I did good work, even then, when I hardly knew how to navigate life as I know it today.
I have always tried to find an opportunity to pass on what I’ve learned as a man in America to survive and thrive by looking back, looking at the present and having a vision for the future.
Most recently, I was a volunteer for Best Buddies International, an organization started by a nephew of President John Kennedy, Anthony Shriver. I was paired with a young man who is intellectually disabled. We spent time trying to understand each other mostly during social activities arranged by Best Buddies or ourselves.
That was a very valuable time for me because I learned so much about people who have disabilities. It was something I was able to translate into my work as a national trainer for a civil rights organization and my work as an equal employment opportunity and diversity manager.
I certainly became more of an advocate for people with disabilities, particularly children, who experience their own special form of bullying.
I had a great childhood because there were great adults around me and my siblings. My grandfather had been in the segregated United States Army during World War I. He fought in France, in a French uniform and returned to Nashville, Tennessee. They created very strong family bonds around all the young people; teaching us to survive a world of racism and bigotry. Those were valuable lessons to learn and I am obligated to pass them on.
I always seem to get more out of my volunteer activities than those that I set out to help. They are a window to the future. They can be fun. And they remind us of the beauty of our own youth.