As a kid growing up in the Bronx, I used to hangout with my buddies behind Corrigan’s Bar. We’d smoke Lucky Strike’s and plan adventures that usually led us down ill-fated paths. We were street kids; our parents worked 12-hour days providing necessities and an occasional trip to Yankee Stadium. However, we were not without supervision. The adults who ran the businesses on 233rd and White Plains Road kept a watchful eye on neighborhood kids and would not tolerate our misbehavior. Could there be truth to the axiom that: “It takes a village?”
One day after school, in the back allies of the Bronx, we faced off with a rival gang. Before the first punch was thrown we heard him coming. His walk was very distinct; he had lost his right leg in a gunfight on Iwo Jima. It was Frank the butcher. He owned the neighborhood meat market. And…‘Believe you me,’ he brought hell down from heaven as he attempted to shake some sense into us. Neighborhoods were different back then. It seemed as though there was never a shortage of adults willing to step in and redirect the behavior of wayward youth. The likes of Mr. Malvey, Frank the butcher, and Mrs. Dolan helped us avoid more than bruises. Through their initiative they directly influenced the lives of children, mentoring, guiding, and getting involved. Perhaps it does “Take a Village.”
I recall a conversation that I had with Marina Carpenter, a lady who passionately believes that adults must take a pro-active role in the maturation of youth. Marina supervises the recess program at La Canada Elementary. She is its soul and inspiration and is philosophically in sync with an ancient perspective that adults must be responsible to teach the next generation how to be adults. On Marina’s watch, children are guided, influenced, and directed toward positive play and psychosocial interaction and development. Marina’s influence represents a small minority of adults who bring to bear influence and values in the lives of children other than their own. The essence of Marina’s work is not the values that she imports…it lies within the context of modeling behavior to the next generation.
It is not a coincidence that cultures from the Artic to the South Pacific venerated the role of adults as mentors and teachers. The interaction of the adult populace in the raring of children was essential for the continuance of culture and civilization. Primitive societies used initiation and rituals in order to bring children into adulthood. Initiation ceremonies made the transition toward adulthood important and sacred. The old adage, “The Rite of Passage,” describes this phenomenon.
Eric Erickson, a prominent psychoanalyst stresses the importance for adults to mentor youth. One of Erickson’s stages of development, “Generativity vs. Stagnation,” emphasizes that adults must enhance and support the next generation. Mentoring regenerates and vitalizes the young; and thus prevents stagnation within the adult populace. A vitalized person vitalizes. According to Erickson, it is the role of the adult world to provide children with competence and confidence.
Ralph Waldo Emerson asserts that “…to know that one child has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded!” The desire to make a difference is inherent within us. Get involved! Correct inappropriate behavior! Take the time to mentor a child! Listen and respect what a child has to say! Children do not need any more friends…they need role models!
Savor the last line of Forest Witcraft’s poem, “Within My Power.” Such thoughts can save a child…and by saving, we save ourselves.
“A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove, but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”
Here’s to Mr. Malvey, Frank the butcher, Mrs. Dolan, and Marina Carpenter. They are meager representatives of those who have influenced children.