The National CARES Mentoring Movement was founded in 2006, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, as Essence CARES. We saw then, as the world did, all the vulnerable youngsters who, as much as anything, needed the love, guidance and support of able and caring adults. But we found that for all the need, when the call went out for mentors, White women and men responded first. Black women and Black men were too often not in the numbers.
This wasn’t because of a lack of caring. We discovered that it was largely because structures did not exist to bring African Americans squarely into the work. In response, it became Susan Taylor’s passion to raise awareness among African Americans of the critical need for massive numbers of able Black men and women to mentor and advance our impoverished children. Speaking throughout the nation and reporting in Essence on the growing crisis, she appealed to millions of Black adults to take on our moral responsibility, in the tradition of our foreparents, to undergird their community’s vulnerable children.
Local community leaders began responding. First in Atlanta, then rapidly replicating the model across the country, leaders of CARES Affiliates learned to recruit, train and deploy committed Black adults to local schools and youth-serving organizations in desperate need of Black volunteers.
Deepening our commitment to healing young lives and understanding that group mentoring is a low-cost way to change the predictable futures of multitudes of impoverished children, today CARES is building transformational group-mentoring programs in several of the most under-resourced schools in high-need communities. Our whole-school consciousness-changing programs, which will be scaled and replicated throughout the entire nation, are incorporated into the school day and are designed to provide students with the psychosocial and academic undergirding greatly challenged youngsters must have, so that despite the many odds they face, they will love and believe in themselves, aim high and succeed in school and in life.
Created through the collaborative efforts of some of the finest minds in education, the arts and wellness, in faith institutions, advocacy organizations and legislative bodies, the CARES group-mentoring programs are designed to help our defenseless children heal the trauma of living with hunger, societal neglect and relentless violence that are part of their everyday lives. Our trained facilitators and mentors provide needed affirmation, guidance and love; our evidence-based curricula offer the tools, principles and practices impoverished youngsters must have to tap into their resilience and override the crises they are facing.
Today, CARES is the recognized national leader in the recruitment, training and engagement of Black mentors. Our programs address the severe shortfall of Black mentors nationally; and we are sought after by hundreds of organizations that look to us for desperately needed, committed volunteers. Our CARES Affiliate network in 58 U.S. cities recruits caring volunteers and connects them to where they are urgently needed: in schools, local youth-serving organizations, detention centers and reentry programs in severely under-resourced communities that are disrupted by poverty, hopelessness and violence. In addition, our large group-mentoring programs, piloted in four cities and which we are preparing for national rollout, focus on the emotional, social, academic and professional development of our children and the wellness of the adults who mentor and parent them.
Our place-based efforts ensure that disconnected youngsters who are most at risk of dropping out of school, graduate and are prepared to succeed in college or industrial-training programs and 21st-century careers. CARES proves that all children, given love and adequate support, can thrive and become caring contributors to their families and communities.
OUR GUIDING PHILOSOPHY
Our guiding philosophy is captured in the manual A New Way Forward: Healing What’s Hurting Black America (ANWF), a meticulous and comprehensive healing curriculum developed by a brain trust of more than 60 of the finest minds in the academic, wellness and advocacy fields. Its goal is to instill in us adults the principles and practices that lead to personal wellness, inner peace, prosperity and mutual love.
At the same time, ANWF aims to revitalize Black America, to help Black people heal our deep hurts, depression and self-denial—rarely recognized or discussed but internalized over generations and evident today in the disproportionately high levels of stress and illnesses impacting the lives and the joy of African Americans—no matter our social status or net worth. Black Americans are more likely than any other Americans to die of heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Twice as many Black people than Whites die from asthma, and our death rate from cancer is 25 percent higher.
The A New Way Forward manual was brought to life in 2010 through a series of weekend trainings that were launched in Oakland and led by our Oakland Bay Area CARES Affiliate. The ANWF principles and practices unearth the secret places where our pain bridles our hope. The life-transforming wisdom and training shine the light on self-love and create pathways to total well-being. It was best captured in what our brain trust elder, Harry Belafonte, so beautifully and perfectly put into words when he said, “We will never be able to fix what most affects our children until we fix what most affects us.”