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Alvin Atkinson: Honoring King’s “Beloved Community”

Alvin Atkinson: Honoring King’s “Beloved Community”

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This past fall, I called attention to the presence of invisible hope that exists among residents of East Winston that belies the recognizable challenges brought about by generational poverty and the health and economic crises emanating from COVID-19. I wrote that new approaches were needed to help make this hope visible and to spread it throughout the city.

At the dawn of this new year, and in recognition of the celebration of the life and legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., I now write to excite and invite all of us to look within ourselves, to find that common bond of humanity and pursue efforts to enable Winston-Salem to reflect King’s vision of the “Beloved Community.” This is about his philosophy and vision for living together.

As stated by the King Center, “Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger, and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.”

In pursuit of this vision and the belief that Winston-Salem can model the characteristics of the Beloved Community, and as a first step toward this end, we have an opportunity to fully participate in the implementation of My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper-Winston-Salem (MBSK-WS). The group started for male youth, and has wisely expanded to include female youth, hence the MBSK acronym.

MBSK is centered on research that shows that the collective work of community leaders and members — public and private agencies pursuing the same goals for all youth, and especially for youth of color — is beneficial.

My Brother’s Keeper — MBK — in Winston-Salem is not new, as it began in 2015, part of a national movement by then-President Obama in recognition that our country's persistent social inequities are widespread, rooted in structural and institutional racism, and prevent our boys and girls and young adults of color from reaching their full potential.

According to recent data from the MBK Alliance, closing the gap in educational attainment between working-age (25-64) men of color and non-Hispanic white men of the same age (the share of working-aged men of color who have a bachelor’s degree or above) would increase the total U.S. GDP by 1.8% ($350 billion). And if we closed the gap in labor force participation between 16- to 54-year-old men of color and non-Hispanic white men of the same age, total U.S. GDP would increase by 2%. Consequently, the MBSK-Winston-Salem goals are focused on education and employment, as well as second chances for individuals impacted by the criminal justice system.

MBSK offers an all-inclusive platform for mentoring programs and initiatives that address persistent opportunity gaps and ensure that all youth can achieve their full potential.

The importance of mentors cannot be overstated. It is acknowledged by the recognition and celebration of January as National Mentoring Month to focus attention on the need for mentors, as well as to explore how each of us can work together to increase the number of mentors to help ensure positive outcomes for our young people.

The value of mentoring is supported by research showing that students who meet regularly with their mentors are more than 52% less likely than their peers to skip a day of school, and youth who face an opportunity gap but have a mentor are 55% more likely to be enrolled in college than those who did not have a mentor. Also, youth who meet regularly with their mentors are 46% less likely than their peers to start using drugs and 27% less likely to start drinking.

Mentoring plays a pivotal role in career exploration and supports workplace skills by helping young people set career goals and drives positive outcomes for young people and businesses. Quality mentoring promotes healthy relationships and communication, positive self-esteem, emotional well-being and emotional growth of young people and their relationships with other adults.

In this new year, Winston-Salem can rise to the opportunity to collectively join for the common good for all. This year, let us remember the Rev. King by acting and becoming vested in the future of our beloved community.

Atkinson, atkinsona@wssu.edu, is the associate director of Winston-Salem State University’s Center for the Study of Economic Mobility, www.wssu.edu/csem.

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