The school-to-prison pipeline for African American males is not just propaganda. According to new data released by the U.S. Department of Education this spring, “African-American students, particularly males, are far more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than their peers.”

The statistics are disheartening because there are many officials and educators, and a plethora of research, that supports that this disparity is not based on or related to “differential bad behavior” but to “differential responses” from the educational system.

BBBBSMA staff Alicia Smith, Paul Carillo, Paul Shenke and Janice McKenzie-Crayton

You know the saying, when a door closes, a window opens. In this case, the alienation from school opens a window of opportunity for our young black men to often end up on the wrong side of the law and land in prison. Our young black men are “at risk” and three times more likely to be incarcerated than non-African American males. And that’s a fact. There’s one organization who has opened its doors wide to mentors of color to address and banish these statistics, and save our black boys from criminalization.The sad part, though, is that black boys are waiting too long for a match. At press time, 455 children were on the waiting list and 95 percent were young males in metro Atlanta. Seventy-seven percent of that number were African American.

“We hope that you partner with us to serve more children in metropolitan Atlanta, to grow beyond the doors of this agency and to really enhance our brand statewide,” says Janice McKenzie-Crayton, the president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Atlanta, during a media breakfast in conjunction with the official open house of the agency’s multimillion dollar headquarters facility in Midtown.

After 20 years at the helm, McKenzie-Crayton still finds it “very exciting and very rewarding to be at the forefront helping children in metropolitan Atlanta.”

BBBSMA provides all children with one-to-one mentoring relationships, hoping to change their lives for the better, forever.

BBBBSMA board member Ron Stewart and Barry Mills, owners of Flip burger boutique

“The real manifestation is in the matches we put together and [the ones that] stay together for a long time. Ron Stewart [mentor] and Barry Mills [mentee] have been together for a long time. There’s an amazing story that goes behind their relationship,” she informs.The pair’s success story is punctuated with a business enterprise in the making that started with their trendy burger joint in Atlanta.Nearly thirty years ago, a shy Mills, then 10-years-old, met his big brother, Stewart, for the first time. A graduate of Georgia Tech, Stewart was establishing his career at Accenture. Mills, who worked in restaurants throughout high school and college, determined he wanted to continue his career as a restaurateur, after graduating from Georgia Tech. He consulted with his mentor who’d retired in 2007. To prove his idea was worth its salt, Mills studied the market and trends in the industry, took trips to New York and California, then he developed the concept for Flip, a burger boutique that has quickly become famous for their creative menu and milkshakes. They now have three locations: Midtown, Buckhead and Birmingham.

It’s stories like this that makes one say, “I can do that.” This writer’s response to you, “Yes you can.”

Be a big brother or big sister. Our children need us. McKenzie-Crayton writes in a recent AJC Op-Ed, “There are over 350,000 children [in metro Atlanta] that could benefit from the positive impact of having a mentor. BBBSMA, one of the largest one-to-one mentoring programs in the southeast, reaches only 3,400 each year. The need is great.”

Yvette Caslin

I'm a writer, image architect & significance marketer. Love photojournalism, creative expression & originality.