Fatherless Crisis: The Transformative Work of Mentors

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America is facing a family crisis. Single parent families are on the rise and fathers are disappearing from the family picture. The impact of the loss is devastating, but change is possible. One popular magazine editor quit her job to help prove it.

The nation's crime blotters are packed with examples of the impact of fatherless homes:

  • In just the first few months of this year Baltimore police arrest two 18-year-old boys for murder and robbery.
  • Chicago police locked up an 18-year-old and 20-year-old for shooting and killing a 15-year-old girl.
  • In Albany, N.Y., officers arrested seven people, mostly teenagers, in the stabbing death of a 21-year-old man.

Virginia criminal defense attorney Tim Anderson said most of those 11 suspects are likely to share one painful reality.

"You can see a pattern at the very beginning stages of these men's lives. You see it in every one of the reports of these people I deal with: no father, no father, no father," Anderson told CBN News.

He said it is "absolutely, a parenting crisis, absolutely."

Some studies suggest 85 percent of young people in prison come from fatherless homes, and those homes are on the rise. There are 12.2 million single parent families across the country, with more than 80 percent of them headed by single mothers.

"You can't blame a single mom if she has three kids and she is working four jobs to keep her house a float," Anderson said. "You can't blame her. You have just got to try to help as much as you can."

'Out of the Picture'

Anderson is helping at least one single mother. He spends most weekends with her son, Chad Barnett, a high school senior. Anderson met the teen through The Up Center program in Hampton Roads, Va.

Chad Barnett told CBN News his dad is "out of the picture. I've never known him. He's never tried to find me. I've never really tried to find him."

"When I came into the picture, I was the second mentor and was really the only male in his life," Anderson recalled of their first meeting.

Barnett said Anderson entered his life at a time when he really needed to talk to a man.

"Nothing is hard as getting through puberty," Barnett said. "Then, once you are through that, everything else seems little. So, he has definitely helped me through a lot."

In five years, the pair has grown closer than brothers. Barnett even works in Anderson's law office after school. The teen said he would like to encourage other adults to follow his mentor's lead.

"Tim probably could have told himself, 'I don't have the time.' But he did make the time for me," Barnett said. "And I think for anybody, it is possible to make the time. It's just about how badly you want to help someone."

Mentoring 'Transformative'

Susan Taylor is the former editor-in-chief of the ground breaking Essence Magazine, which has delivered inspiration to millions of black women. After 37 years, she left that platform to start another: National Cares Mentoring.

Taylor described mentoring as "transformative"

"It's inexpensive, it's doable, and it is the way I think we are going to change the face of this nation," she said.

Regarding her decision to leave Essence, Taylor said, "I think there is a point in your life when you just realize you have enough. I have enough. My community needs me. Essence doesn't need me anymore."

"Sometimes, we elders don't know when to place the reigns in young people's hands," she continued. "Young, well trained, passionate, focused, capable young people are leading Essence today and it was a joy for me to say 37 years is enough. Let me hand the reigns to the new team."

In her new role in the community, Taylor leads an effort to inspire people to take the time to mentor a child. Grim statistics helped drive her decision to lead the work. She can recall the numbers without thinking or looking at any notes.

"Eighty percent of black fourth graders are reading below grade level and 56 percent are functionally illiterate," she told CBN News. "One million black men are incarcerated, and failing schools are the pipeline to prison. So, mentors stepping in that space, oh my gosh, mentoring is just transformative."

National Cares Mentoring is on the ground in more than 50 cities across the country -- and growing. CBN News met with a team in Baltimore, which included support from Steve Harvey, a comedian, radio and talk show host. Inspired by Taylor, Harvey has also started a push to encourage mentoring.

The Baltimore event took the mentoring message specifically to African American men in church.

"Speaking like, this is what we go to church for, the minister is group mentoring," Taylor said. "Speaking to the congregants for 20 minutes, some of them for an hour, more, depending on what church you are in -- speaking life, hope and possibilities, right to our hearts."

"That's what mentoring is. It's inspiring. It's pushing. It's connecting them to the resources they need, our young," she said.

A Mentoring Success Story

Jonathan McReynolds, 23, is a church mentoring success story. He was raised by a single mother in Chicago, and New Original Church of God in Christ became his second home.

"I had a lot of great male figures that God planted in my life," McReynolds recalled in a recent interview at his church. "I was still able to look up to my pastor and some godfathers and some uncles as that father, together collectively."

"I remember there were times when my cousin, we would talk and she would go like, 'Where is your dad?' And I was like, 'I don't know. I don't have one,'" he continued. "And I really, I innocently meant it. I don't feel that void."

"I don't feel that emptiness, and you know now I look back on it and I realize that it was nobody but God being the father to the fatherless as He promise He would be," he said.

McReynolds learned to play nearly every instrument in his church and later began to sing. He recently released his first CD, "Life Music." It's climbing the Gospel charts.

Fresh out of college, McReynolds began to travel the world with his music. But he still regularly comes home to his mom, his pastor, and his little Chicago church to serve as a mentor himself.

"It's really for the salt of the earth not to lose its saltiness," McReynolds said. "And that is what a lot of my music is about. We are here to preserve. We are here and we have to pray. We have to give as much of a good influence to these kids."

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Efrem Graham

Efrem Graham

News Anchor & Reporter

Efrem Graham is an award-winning journalist, who comes to CBN News from the ABC owned and operated station in Toledo, Ohio.  He received his master's degree from the Columbia University Journalism School. He also holds a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.  Follow Efrem on Twitter @EfremGraham and "like" him at Facebook.com/EfremGrahamCBN.