CHICAGO — It’s a question everyone asks: “What can be done to stop gun violence in the city?” The truth is there’s no magic bullet. But mentoring programs are making a difference.
Damontae Warren graduated in the top ten of his class at Marshall High School and was awarded a four year, full ride scholarship to Philander Smith College, a private, historically Black liberal arts school in Arkansas.
“I’m the fourth of six children and all three of my older brothers have been shot,” he said. “It’s tough growing up, especially in a neglected neighborhood. I lost a lot of friends during the high school years and thanks to people like Mr. Dorsey I was able to manage and preserve. But it was really tough though.”
Mr. Dorsey is Dar’Tavous Dorsey, his mentor from the program BAM, Becoming A Man.
“When I met them, I saw it in them,” he said of Warren and Christopher Rucker II.
“BAM for me isn’t a four-year type of program. It’s a lifetime program,” Rucker said. “I’m still talking to my mentor to this day.”
It’s that structure that help Rucker not only finish high school at Bronzeville Scholastic Institute as valedictorian with a 5.34 GPA, but he recently graduated Summa Cum Laude from Philander Smith in two and a half years.
“I had motivation,” he said. “I knew I was a first generation college student so I was like, I have to finish this. And if I’m going to finish it, since I’m the first one, I got to make a bang.”
Now he’s working with the national faith based organization Live Free to organize against mass incarceration and violence and running his own clothing line.
“ULTRA is my brand which means Unbeatable Legends That Reach Ambitions,” he said.
Both Rucker and Warren faced challenges growing up and credit BAM with helping them to focus
“I would have been angry a lot more than I already was, because my father had just passed away,” Rucker said. “I had some struggles in my personal life that I was dealing with.”
Warren believes meeting Dorsey changed his life.
“You start to feel hopeless. You start to feel maybe this is all life is, maybe there’s nothing else to it but to live and die, so what’s the point?” Warren said. “But you meet people like Mr. Dorsey and they show you different things and introduce you to other people and it inspires you.”
Dorsey is now on a mission to change the negative narrative about young black men in Chicago by recruiting others to be mentors. Because, he says, mentorship matters.
“If we get out of the mindset of saying it’s not my problem, my responsibility and then we can reach them,” he said. “I want to challenge others to believe in our youth and inspire them to do good.”
Right now there’s a shortage of volunteers to be positive male mentors. Rucker and Warren expect to pay it forward by giving back and becoming mentors themselves.