As part of our Men in Community series, we sat with Troy Rogers to talk about how male presence affects community and what we can do to amplify positive outcomes.
What’s your personal experience with male presence in community?
In high school, I was part of a service project with Big Brothers Big Sisters where I worked with an autistic child who didn’t speak. Later, in college, I started participating in some service in the west side where I worked with hurting young men. Both of these experiences taught me something: you’ve got to get close. You can’t hug someone or listen to them if you aren’t close. There’s no impact without contact.
I also had strong mentors in my life. There have been a couple men in my life that showed me what it means to pour into the lives of others. One of my life goals is to die ‘empty.’ I believe we all are full of things others around us need. I want to make sure I leave this earth with nothing left to give back. Now, there are young men I’ve mentored in other cities. It makes me feel like my reach has been stretched in a positive way.
What fallout do you see from male absence in community?
In the City of Chattanooga offices, we see the impact of what it means to be born into poverty. The vast majority of young men (and women) we see come from homes with no father present. When you come from an environment where something’s lacking, you can only become what you’ve seen in front of you. We see illiteracy; untreated mental illness; fallout from gentrification. What’s waiting on these kids is the criminal justice system. Billions of dollars were made last year by private prisons. We can break the cycle of crime if we mentor.
We believe in an approach of compassion and support so much, we’ve literally changed what happens when someone is brought in to jail. Usually, they’re coming right from an emotional situation. They’re angry and they don’t know what to do. Instead of sitting them down and yelling or just putting them in a room alone, we greet them with love. We ask how they’re doing and if they’re ok. It’s important to give them that opportunity and treat people like humans.
How can we fix these problems?
I’ve seen many things work. Sometimes people think color or background is most important, but consistency and love transcend color. I’ve seen Caucasian men ‘adopt’ young men of color and be great mentors to them. The best thing you can do is let the mentee drive their life. Young people are going to make mistakes. As a mentor, you’re going to make mistakes. I always say, ‘I’m not quitting. I’m waiting. I’m here.’ In 90% of mentoring relationships, it’s the mentor that leaves the mentee. We’ve got to stop being just another adult who comes into their life and then leaves when it doesn’t work for us anymore. There are several men and women in this community who I think are great mentors and really doing it right.
No kids are born bad. All these negative behaviors have either been shown to them or they come from something they’re lacking. No mentor should ever get mad at a kid. Ever. You’re the medicine for someone’s headache. How long will you let them hurt?
Read more from the Men in Community series during June.