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As told by Joshua Easter, Charles Carter and Cody K. Cotton, West40 mentors and founders of A Greater Good Foundation

“Let’s say you have a student who’s made some bad choices. He decides to change his habits, but he has to keep going back into a home environment or a school environment that’s not conducive to his goals. How do you help that kid? You have to give him a mentor and a support system. You’ve got to give him courage and hope.

We started out as SEL [Social and Emotional Learning] advisors for the ALOP programs at the Proviso high schools. We also volunteered with Americorps, where we learned restorative practice training. After that, we started to work as mentors in a more integrated atmosphere in the West40 Safe Schools. We love the Safe School environment because students are free from violence, harassment, bullying and substance abuse.

We have the opportunity to spend a full class period with the Safe School students every Wednesday. When we first meet many of these kids, we know that they’re living in a family that is overwhelmed and overworked. And at the same time, they also have outside influences like peer pressure and social media pushing them to make bad decisions. In a world that’s unstable and sometimes volatile, it’s normal for them to search for a place they belong, whether it’s healthy for them or not. Without mentors to guide them, they could easily fall in with the wrong crowd.

So a lot of what we do starts with giving kids the tools to see through all the noise and hype.

We poke a hole in the reality that they’re looking at. We ask them to think through what’s real —and what isn’t—about the ’cool’ life they see on social media. We show them the reality of what happens when you skip school or drink every single day. And then we expose people to a more inspiring example. We are all minority young men from inner city environments and we were all college athletes. We have the opportunity to help kids understand, you know, you can start a business and make money and help your community without dealing drugs.

Some of that is trying to relate to them on their level, speaking a language they can understand. We have a lot of sayings that we come back to and that we share with the students, like: ‘Where attention goes, energy flows.’ ‘A person can’t be what a person can’t see.’ And ‘Education is the new money. Get you some!’ It’s playful but framed up in a way they can relate to. We work hard to help our kids see principles in action as much as possible. Principles like learning, integrity, confidence and consistency.

At the end of the day, we’re here to be advocates focused on giving them the guidance to create success for themselves. Helping to change their belief systems, providing them with courage, hope and the ability to envision a more positive future than the one they currently have before them.

Because once we start to change their belief system and help them realize they can be more than their immediate surroundings, we change everything.”


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