When Charlie Bean met Malik Avery, he was a high school dropout. Charlie is a dropout recruiter in St. Louis who connects with kids to get them back in school. The kids each have their own story and reasons for leaving school, and in Malik's case, he was being bullied, feeling lonely and suicidal. Many of the adults he tried to turn to just couldn't or wouldn't help. When Malik met Charlie, he found the first adult in years who asked him how he was doing and really cared about the answer.
There are 9 million kids living in this kind of isolation in America. They can't identify a single adult who they can turn to in moments of crisis or celebration. Many of the kids have parents juggling multiple jobs - often with inflexible schedules - just to stay afloat. They often attend overcrowded schools where the need to deal with trauma takes priority over reading, writing and math. They do not have an adult outside of their families that they can turn to in times of strife - that connection can make all the difference in the world. In short, they are cut off from the American Dream; that promise of opportunity that can lift them out of their current circumstances and into a better life.
Charlie Bean didn't just bring Malik back to high school. He talked to him. Listened to him. Cared about him. He was there in a way that Malik could count on and trust. He became his mentor. One thousand people gathered in D.C. this week at the National Mentoring Summit to ensure that Malik's experience becomes the rule, not the exception.
Research has shown that young adults at-risk for dropping out of high school, but with a mentor, are 55 percent more likely to enroll in college and 78 percent more likely to give back to their communities than their peers who didn't have a mentor.
There is broad consensus rooted in research and personal experience that mentors can have a meaningful impact in a young person's life. Unfortunately, what's missing is a sense of urgency. Mentoring isn't just nice to have -- it's vital. While we endure another election season where polarized debates dominate and posturing about toughness abounds, we need to focus on the places where we can make progress. Too many tragic events in the last year have revealed a common national enemy that we should be discussing with urgency and solutions: disconnection and our complacency in preventing it until it's too late.
We are building a coalition and campaign to demand just that - it's called In Real Life. It includes anyone who believes -- and is willing to demand -- that something so critical as the future of our youth not be left to chance. This is a call to connect every young person with the kind of meaningful relationship that provides networks of support and opportunity, resulting in a more thriving nation.
There are 46 million young people ages 8-18 in our country and 16 million of them are growing up without a mentor of any kind. That's one out of every three young people who, outside of their family at home, don't have a trusted adult in their lives who they can turn to for advice and guidance. And, 9 million of those young people face a variety of day-to-day challenges that put them at-risk for falling through the cracks.
None of these young people begin their journey with dropping out of school as their destination. They don't start life susceptible to engaging in illegal and destructive behaviors. They first walk a long path of isolation and disconnection where the outcome is frequently tragic not only for them but for society.
Our shared vision is to unite Americans to fuel a mentoring movement to make sure no kid feels isolated and without options. We want to empower Americans to be a vehicle of change. Partners like the NBA family and well-known names across generations like Bill Russell and Kendrick Lamar have lent their voice to this effort.
Those 9 million young people living with a feeling of isolation are most likely not going to just happen upon a caring adult. Reaching these 9 million kids will take action by public leaders, communities, schools, neighbors, and you. Public leaders can invest in mentoring. Communities and schools can make sure that their policies and solutions to reaching kids at risk include connecting them to caring adults.
And you can be a mentor to a young person you know, support mentoring programs in your community, or just be an advocate - a voice for the powerful impact of mentoring in real life.