I recently attended a funeral of a 24 year old talented, fun-loving young man from Detroit.  The grief in the packed funeral home was heavy and thick. He was killed by his girlfriend. She stabbed him because he wanted to break up with her. Wow. I just could not wrap my arms around that idea.  Everyone attached to the situation was trying to understand what they could have done to help. They felt like they were to blame for some reason. The owner of the foster care transitional home where she lived spoke at the funeral, asking for peace from the family. He was apologizing as if somehow her actions were his fault. It wasn’t his fault.  I learned more about the young woman that killed him. She lived in and out of foster care homes for most of her life and now she was in a transitional home for youth aging out of the “system”. Everyone was always leaving her. Taking another person’s life and forever changing the trajectory of your own tells me she was desperate, scared and hopeless.

It saddens me to think that our youth are living in such desperation, seemingly unaware of options for achieving success in life.   I hear people say it “takes a village” to raise a child.  But who is in the village? A friend of Big Brothers Big Sisters, Shawn Blanchard, a graduate of U of M, mayoral appointee and motivational speaker has written a book called “How ‘Bout That for a Crack Baby”.  In talking with Shawn he openly shares that his childhood village consisted of his addicted mother who taught him to steal at a young age and brothers who ended up in prison or dead. But also in Shawn’s village were a few adult mentors who stepped in to help him see another pathway. And it wasn’t always easy for those mentors. Youth, who grow up in the struggle, find comfort in the chaotic certainty of it.  An overwhelming number of the nearly 1000 youth we serve every year live with this certainty.

While mentorship through Big Brothers Big Sisters is proven to help youth gain a better perspective on life, many youth will push back.   Youth, especially those from traumatic backgrounds, like some in foster care may not have the same built in ability, even as emerging adults,  to deal with insecurity or uncertainty. But I say to those who are mentoring, thank you and keep pushing forward.  Give them words of encouragement, offer a helping hand (not a handout), celebrate small accomplishments (like not making you have to wait 10 minutes when you come pick them up), give them room to explore this new self that you are helping to reveal,  and help them develop a vision of a healthy future.  

Desperate actions that cause our youth to end up dead or in prison are not ok.

Our youth can do better when are guided to see a concrete way to something better.  It’s up to us in the village to shine a light so that all youth, regardless of their adversity and misfortune can see the pathway to a successful life.  Become a mentor visit www.bbbsdetroit.org.



Gary Smith
06/07/2016 3:17pm

Jeannine, I saw Shawn speak at the BBBS meeting in Madison Height last week. I thought his message and delivery were exciting and inspiring. As a mentor at BBBS for AAA I was drawn to the program because of the personal tragedy of some close friends. Their son had been tragically murdered in a fit of rage by a young 17 year old boy. When I went to his sentencing last year, I was taken back by this young boy who had committed this crime. He was small in stature and very innocent looking. My heart went out for this boy who would get a sentence of 19-40 years for the murder of Matthew Green. The boy, I found out later, lived with his mom and 2 other siblings from different fathers. This boy had no mentor, no leader, no compass, no map and nobody to give him advice or direction. My heart told me that these families, for lack of a mentor, would be forever changed. If someone had been able to stand in the gap for this young boy things would certainly be different. Maybe Matt Green would be alive, maybe Dion Patterson would not be in prison, maybe both families would be enjoying the company of their children and grand children for years to come. I saw all this said, "enough is enough" and I had to do "something" so I volunteered for BBBS to try to stand in the gap for "someone, anyone". Clare Carr has done a marvelous job in matching us up and I certain hope that BBBS succeeds in it's mission to mentor young boys and girls at risk. Thanks for all you do!

Steve Engelman
06/07/2016 3:21pm

Such a sad story for everyone involved. Imagine if you could be the person that a kid could turn to for advice or just someone to vent to and that outlet that you provided was enough to make someone think twice and saves a life. Yeah, it's that important and YOU are that POWERFUL! Use the power you have been given to effect positive changes because the ripple effects are enormous.

Jeannine Gant
06/07/2016 6:04pm

Thanks Steve! Yes, YOU are that POWERFUL too! Appreciate you.

06/08/2016 7:56pm

This was a very sad story but your blog post was heart felt and very compelling. I love the passion that you display for our youth.Keep up the great work.


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