Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Kike Has Graduated!!!

On June 17, 2010 Jose Enrique Gutierrez (aka Kike) graduated from Jefferson High School.

5 minutes ago Kike proudly walked into YMC offices to show off his fresh new diploma...more celebrating.

A few years ago, many people doubted that this day would come.  But Kike has a mentor and a lot of people who love and believe in him. 

Last week at our Warner Bros. mentoring program session Kike made the announcement and an entire room of people cheered and cried and celebrated.  They lived the story with Kike.  They saw him struggle to catch up.  They know about the gang stabbing that he survived and the role that his mentor played in that.  They heard about his spiritual awakening at our retreats.  But mostly they saw the big heart inside this big boy...who is becoming a big man.

So many others in the Warner Bros. program graduated too.  We celebrate them and their struggles to make it to this momentus day.

Congratulations Kike.  Congratulations to all of our graduates!

with love and pride from YMC.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee- Alan and David

"I would like to thank my mentor for everything he did for me. He was nice, kind, and respectful and I respect him in many ways. My mentor showed me he cared when he took me to fun places. If something happens to me he cares and is there. This program taught me many things that would help me in my life. I learned that I should respect other people and they will respect me".


Monday, June 28, 2010

But She’s So Young

The young lady sullenly and defiantly leaning against the counter, instead of cooperating in our activity, seemed to be trying to connect with me. “Looks like you’re having a rough day.” I say. This is our approach. Instead of “why aren’t you participating?” or lecturing about her attitude, we ask them to let us see them as they are, in that moment, and she was not having a hard time doing so. This girl needed to have her pain seen and validated.
 She informs me that she is about to go into rehab for drugs and alcoholism - at 15 years old. Later I would find out that this is her second stint in rehab. She is scared…of failing again…of not liking the place they are putting her…of not being able to cope with the pain without her best friends – tequila and meth…of finding out that life has no answers for her. 
We talk. I encourage. She seems to feel a little relief from the connection and goes back to her mentor, with whom it seems she really has created a bond.

I go back to the group. The session is about trust and support and I decide to risk taking it a little deeper. I call on the memory of my now deceased friend, Tony Hernandez, and tell his story to the group. Ex gang banger and heroin addict, Tony had a gift for reaching young people. He would tell his story and their broken places would relate to his. It works. The room takes on a gravitas that tells me that something powerful can happen. I call on Tony’s spirit to guide us. His nickname was “Crow”, which is the animal in native lore that leads spirits between the two worlds.
We have discussion and then do an exercise called Trust Walk where mentors and mentees guide each other around the field outside the room – those being guided are asked to keep their eyes closed. In the middle of the exercise a police helicopter shows up circling the park, loudspeaker blasting out instructions that we can’t quite make out. They aren’t intended for us. They have some perp in their sights. This is such a common scene in the hood that the soccer teams continue playing as if it were just a bird circling the field. There is even a slang term for it: "ghetto bird".  Kids on the swings and jungle gyms continue their activities, seemingly unaffected. However, we have 22 kids to worry about as well as their mentors who are not from this neighborhood. So, we take the group back inside. We are able to continue the program indoors where we increase the stakes by doing Trust Falls. Small groups challenge individuals to allow themselves to fall backwards into their waiting arms.
 When it’s all finished we circle up to debrief. After several people speak about their experiences, my young alcoholic friend steps forward with a smile on her face and tears in her eyes. “This feels better than any high I have ever had.” The conversation changes to people sharing the things that they do that make them “high on life”. We hear of people’s music, meditation, sky diving, just being with friends, dancing, art, sports, etc.
 She waits with her mentor until everyone else is gone, approaches me to talk some more. The mentor stays back, but I can tell that our young lady is keenly aware of her mentors presence and receives a strong sense of security from this woman. This 15 year old girl, about to go into rehab for the second time, who hasn’t stopped crying nor smiling, softly tells me that “The only thing keeping me alive is my poetry and this family”. She gestures to make sure I know that she means our little instant community of mentors and mentees - her YMC family. Her eyes go directly to her mentor. I’ve seen this look of gratitude and genuine love a hundred times. It is a blessing and a privilege. It is the paycheck that only my heart can cash.



PS Our young lady’s mentor has agreed to bring her to the Open Mic next Sunday hosted by our friends, a soulful organization called “Street Poets” so she can share some of this poetry that is keeping her alive. Maybe that will be my next blog entry.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tony's Blog: Lakers are the Champions of the NBA…Kobe helps YMC

“If you do follow your bliss,
you put yourself on a kind of track
that has been there all the while, waiting for you.
And the life that you ought to be living,
is the one you ARE living.”
 Joseph Campbell

When we work with youth we encourage them to discover what they have a passion for and pursue it. Don’t just make a living, make a life. So, the people that we bring into their lives often model the same. We give up opportunities in order to go where our hearts lead us. We make hard choices and leave comfortable jobs to go off and cultivate our true gifts as dancers, therapists, musicians, poets, youth workers, leaders. We sell our business to fund our life’s work.

How do we know our path? How do we keep from joining the masses as Thoreau puts it, “living lives of silent desperation”? (Often opting for lives of strident desperation, but fully in our purpose.) Sometimes it’s in a mentoring moment, when the Yaqui called me to “come do your life’s work”. Sometimes it is an unlikely mentoring relationship as a young Nicaraguan girl learns from an old Jewish woman how to exercise her anger and express herself through dance. Sometimes it is in a gradual awakening as a brilliant young activist finds herself drawn to a different kind of revolution, through emotional healing. Sometimes it is through alcoholic or chemically induced descent into the darkest parts of our souls, so that we can mark the path back to freedom and become a guide to countless others needing help in making the ascension back to their higher spirit.

…and for Samuel “Free” Harris it was the Laker’s Kobe Bryant.

It was during the 98-99 NBA lockout, when the owners and players association were unable to come to terms. Now, what would you do if your work were disrupted for an extended period of time? Take a long vacation? Find another job? Kobe used the time to practice, like a man possessed with the knowledge of his true passion. He went up to the College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita to escape the distractions of L.A. That’s where Free, the captain of the college basketball team met the man soon to become considered by many, the greatest player on the planet. Free tells of peaking into the gym while attending his classes from 9am to 3pm to glimpse Kobe practicing endless repetitions: posting up imaginary defenders; turn-around jumpers; fall aways; fake-left-go-right; endless free throws; cross-over move; ball fakes; drop step; stop-and-pop. He would take a break from the gym floor to lift weights with the team, then back to the hardwood while the team would do their running. Often when Free and his team would return to the gym for their practice, Kobe would line up one-on-one with each of the players and tell them exactly the move he was going to execute against them. Even with that foreknowledge they were powerless to stop him. Once in a while someone would get lucky and Kobe would miss a shot. Then he would let them go on offense while he practiced defense.

After witnessing this display of dedication and passion day after day for an entire week, Free began to question his dream of professional basketball. He was a damn good player, but watching Kobe made him wonder if he loved the game enough to have that kind of singularity of focus and dedication all day, every day. His heart was whispering to him that he needed to take a second look, to respect the yearnings of his soul. The answer was obvious: “I love the game, but don’t have the passion to dedicate my entire being to it like Kobe.” However, there was something that called to him, that he could see himself spending that kind of energy, dedication and hourly commitment - his music. This eventually led to his co-founding the conscious hip-hop group “Luminaries” who have traveled the country performing with the likes of India Arie and Michael Franti and may soon be touring in Asia.

Free is also dedicated to using his gift to influence young people to follow a more conscious and peaceful path in their life. So, after seeing him perform, our very own Hoolie (demonstrating her gift of persuasion) brought him over to YMC to work with our youth. Drawing upon the dedication that he witnessed back at the College of the Canyons, Free will often spend all night in the recording studio and then all day working with our kids – mentoring them in music, finding transitional housing, encouraging them to learn non-violent problem solving skills, and just giving them a taste of his infectious spirit.

So, is this the ultimate path for Samuel “Free” Harris. Who knows? Perhaps another epiphanal mentoring moment is on the way. For now, we’ll keep inviting him to inspire our youth…

…and offer a word of gratitude to Kobe for allowing Free to witness that kind of passion and dedication, planting him firmly in his destiny, leading him to Youth Mentoring Connection.



Youth Mentoring Connection/Urban Oasis

Boarding House Mentors

Thursday, June 17, 2010

YMC = Learning

As I prepare for my Presentation of Learning (POL) for Public Allies, I find myself completely transformed as an individual after working at YMC. Growing up, people always said “You can change the world one person at a time” and all I could do was laugh. With my revolutionary perspective I did not agree that one person at a time was enough; I wanted to tear down the system and restructure society all in one action. After working at YMC I have found that in order to use my power as an individual, a Latina, and really put my education to use I needed to realize that some of the most important change comes in small sizes. Although my revolutionary perspective is stronger than ever, it has evolved by what I have experienced in the “real world.” The daily interactions I had with the young people that we work with, the college information that I provided them, the personal talks they felt comfortable with having, and the humanizing perspective behind all we do is what is changing the world.

In my POL I must focus on what I have learned in the past 10-months as an ally and one of my most powerful lessons has been that our youth will only be committed to changing and improving their lives once they see that they have a society that is willing to support them along the way. Most of my previous work experience had been with youth; tutoring them in math, helping them with their personal statements for college, and just simply being a young adult they can talk to about life. Every one of those jobs has had an impact on my development as a young professional but it was not until I saw the beauty in fostering a strong, loving, and honest relationship between a young person and a mentor that I saw young people come alive.

It is difficult to think that many young people live in the shadows and many compare their life to that of a zombie. I’ve had the privilege of listening to them recite their poetry or to them speak about their personal problems at home, school, or neighborhood and I now fully understand what this society does to our youth. We neglect them, provide them with a crappy education system, and bombard them with pop culture yet write newspaper articles and breaking news stories on their low academic performance, gang violence, and low graduating rates.

Now more than ever, I am ready to be committed and dedicated to creating better communities and a better society for the generations that follow us.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee- Christen & Dulicnea

"I would like to thank my mentor for my mentor for advising me. She is funny and cares about me and she is fun to be with. No matter how times we talked about my grades and math, and no matter how boring it was, she always seemed to care about the subject. I learned that there are grownups that are not hard to be around. Also in every adult there is a fun kid".


Monday, June 14, 2010

They Graduated: Now what?

Young people participating in YMC programs are graduating at a rate more than double their friends. As proud as I am of that, our work is not even close to done. The majority of them will go on to college. But we live in a world where succeeding in college is getting more difficult for kids from the inner city. They are hit by the double whammy of higher tuitions and lower family income. It will take so much more dedication, commitment and perseverance for them to make it. The vast majority of them will still have their mentors to encourage them and of course, they have all of us at YMC. So, while we strive to help our young people get to their next graduation we also need to look at what kind of world they will graduate into:

This is how Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children's Defense Fund answers the question:

“You are graduating into a nation and world teetering on the brink of moral and economic bankruptcy. Since 1980, our President and Congress have been turning our national plowshares into swords and been bringing good news to the rich at the expense of the poor....Children are the major victims. Our misguided national and work choices are literally killing children daily...Yet governments throughout the world, led by our own, spend over $600 billion a year on arms, while an estimated 1 billion of our world's people live in poverty and 600 million are under- or unemployed. Where is the human commitment and political will to find the relative pittance of money needed to protect children?  …Pick a piece of the problem that you can help solve."
Edelman offered these words at a commencement speech… in 1983!

While I want to emphasize how important it is that we work and pray to try to create a movement to finally start valuing our youth as much as we value war and wealth, I am particularly interested in the last sentence. If you are a mentor you have picked a part of the problem to help solve. If not, please consider what you can do. If so, please consider what more you can do to help make this a more equitable, just and humane world. Edelman also said that “Service is the rent we pay to be living. It is the very purpose of life and not something you do in your spare time.”

What we do for others is our heritage and our legacy. One final quote from this brilliant woman:

“How will we say thanks for the life, earth, nations, and children God has entrusted to our care? What legacies, principles, values, and deeds will we stand for and send to the future through our children to their children and to a spiritually confused, balkanized, and violent world desperately hungering for moral leadership and community?”


Tony LoRe
Youth Mentoring Connection/Urban Oasis

Boarding House Mentors

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee- Kate & Claudia

"Hey there Kate, I am extremely happy that I was paired with such a wonderful mentor like you. Although, we weren’t able to attend most of the sessions because we are such busy women I had a lot of fun. I’m very grateful for the extra time you put into our mentor and mentee relationship, it really meant a lot to me. We got along very well from the beginning and from then I knew I could not have been paired with a better mentor. Thank you for putting up with my talking and laughing, I can never really “shut up” LOL. Well, I really want to keep in touch with you as well. I am confident so I refuse to say, “Goodbye”.

Always, Claudia

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Ultimate Mentor Passes Away

The Wizard has died.

On June 4, 2010 just months shy of his 100th birthday the man known as the Wizard of Westwood left this plane of existence to join up in the afterlife with his beloved wife of 53 years ‘Nell’. John Wooden left behind a legacy of mentoring that is second to none. The man lived with total integrity. He was never heard to utter a curse word. It’s not the lack of cursing that is so impressive. It is the fact that he lived his values so unfailingly every day.

John Wooden was arguably the greatest coach that ever lived, not just basketball – any sport. He won 10 NCAA basketball championships at UCLA (7 in a row), the last in 1975 (my second year at UCLA). Nobody has ever come within six of him. His teams once won 88 straight games. He amassed perhaps the greatest winning record in sports history without ever talking about winning. He would say that:

 "Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming."

It’s not his impressive records that will be his most important legacy. It is the lives he touched. His former players speak of him in reverent terms as the man who molded their lives forever. Until the day he died he was still in contact with 172 of the 180 of them (more than 30 years later). Since his coaching days John Wooden has taught and inspired thousands of others, from young kids to seasoned executives. He was an unlikely hero to my partner Susan, who went to UCLA’s rival USC, and who I have to explain the game of basketball to as we watch the NBA finals. She proudly displays a picture of her and Coach. She has read his books, which are not so much about basketball, but are anthologies of wisdom. John Wooden not only transcends the game of basketball, he just transcends.
Some of my favorite mentoring stories are about the way he guided Bill Walton. The 7 footer Walton was the most coveted basketball prospect in the nation when he decided to sign with UCLA in the 1970’s. These were times of great upheaval in the country when the most prevalent bumper sticker read “question authority”. So, in the zeitgeist of the time Walton grew a beard in defiance of Coach Wooden’s policy against facial hair. When confronted Walton explained that he should have the right to assert his own individuality. Wooden asked if he believed that strongly. Walton said he did. "That's good, Bill," Coach said. "I admire people who have strong beliefs and stick by them, I really do... We're going to miss you." Walton shaved it right then and there. Since leaving UCLA Walton called once a week to tell Coach he loves him and he used to write quotes from Coach on his kids' lunch bags.

According to the New York Times, John Wooden always carried around a small piece of paper on which the words of his father were written: "Be true to yourself. Make each day a masterpiece. Help others. Drink deeply from good books. Make friendship a fine art. Build a shelter against a rainy day."

RIP “Coach”



Tony LoRe
Youth Mentoring Connection/Urban Oasis

Boarding House Mentors

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Tony's Blog: America For Sale…

…no unreasonable offer refused.

A beautiful young mentee, who is in the process of becoming one of our proud success stories, and her Hall of Fame mentor both offer to make the five hour drive to Central California to visit our boy who is being availed of the hospitality of the State of California prison system. YMC staffer Leslie has been planning to make the same trip with me.

Then the call comes in. “They’re moving me to Oklahoma.” What? How can they do that?

Well, you see he’s not the guest of the state. He’s a commodity, sold to a private corporation. His landlord isn’t the government of the city, county or state whose laws he has been convicted of violating. He is in the custody of a private company called CCA (Correctional Corporation of America).  His prison was built with investments from American Express and General Electric.  His collect calls are a hugely profitable business for AT&T, Sprint, MCI and Correctional Communications Corp., gouging the loved ones of prisoners with rates, often six times the normal long distance charge.  He may become part of an increasing cheap labor pool for corporations. The Correctional Industries Association has estimated that over 30 percent of America's inmate population will labor to create nearly $9 billion in sales for private business interests. They will be paid less than $1.50 per hour (putting downward pressure on hourly wages for other low income Americans).   This is BIG BUSINESS!  Over 2 million people are currently behind bars in the United States. This represents the highest per capita incarceration rate for any country in the history of the world.

All a part of a long-standing movement to corporatize every social institution in America. If there is not a profit to be made then it can’t be American.  This kind of thinking has so corrupted our view of what America is all about that Tea Party candidate Rand Paul recently called Pres. Obama "un-American" for threatening to keep the pressure on BP (British Petroleum) to clean up the horrendous catastrophe they caused in the gulf.  God forbid that our politicians put the public interest ahead of corporate profits.
Keep your eyes peeled for any public crisis and then follow the money. Politicians are all too happy to sell every social institution (and the protections that go with them) to their closest crony.  After they leave office the politician will then consult for hefty fees, become a lobbyist or go to work for said crony . Look at New Orleans after Katrina.  Public transportation, public housing, the public school system and waste removal were all sold off (more like gifted) to cronies of Bush and Cheney - companies like KBR (subsidiary of Cheney’s Haliburton).
So too the prison system of the State of California is now operated with a profit motive. If rehabilitation ever was a goal it certainly will have to take a back seat to profitability now. Hmmm. Companies become more profitable by increasing business through return customers. There is now a profit incentive in recidivism and increased sentence time.  
If CCR, which operates in several states, decides it is more efficient to warehouse our boy in Oklahoma, that’s where he will go. So that some private corporation can make a profit, we are not able to visit our young man who needs support to keep his promise to turn his life around and do his time well.

But we will find other ways to support this young man because that's what we do.  A letter writing campaign is under way.  If you know who I'm talking about and would like to participate, let me know.  We're also sending him books and sending our prayers.  I am determined that he will come back to us, never to return to that kind of corporation again.



Tony LoRe
Youth Mentoring Connection/Urban Oasis

Boarding House Mentors

PS Read "The Shock Doctrine" by Naomi Klein for a historical and comprehensive elucidation of the corporatization phenomenon in action on the international stage.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Tuesday with Mentor and Mentee- Donielle & Ashley

"I would like to thank my mentor for always being there for me when I needed her. I want to thank her for being who she is. She showed me she cared for me because she always did her best to go and pick me up. She also always gave me good advice. From this program I learned that we can have somebody that is going to be there for us like my mentor Donielle".

I love you Donielle!