Before the fatal night of Aug. 25, 2020, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Kyle Rittenhouse was a high school dropout. His job experience was limited to that of a part-time lifeguard.
But Rittenhouse was steeped in another kind of education: the rhetoric of far right-wing militias like the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, groups which claim violence against certain people, whether because of their religion, politics or the color of their skin, is justified and heroic.
Rittenhouse has been lauded by these right-wing militias and other white supremacist groups. After he was acquitted of murder charges, three prominent Republicans took to social media to offer internships to Rittenhouse.
Though not a national figure, I know I have a measure of influence upon younger generations as a pastor. While certain politicians and hate groups view Rittenhouse’s case as a cause for celebration, I see the reality of troubled youth in America as a call to mentor.
The word “mentor” is from the Greek word “to abide with.” A mentor is a positive presence who guides another person along the journey of life. Mentors can be very different based on personal experiences. But I think I know a good mentor when I meet one.
I admire the examples of Black mentors in our community, whether they are politicians like County Commissioner Karen Howard or community leaders like the Rev. Charles Mathews of Union Grove A.M.E Zion Church. Both Howard and Mathews have articulated the need for racial justice and equity in the pages of the Chatham News + Record. I have done the same in this column.
But have I done enough to mentor troubled individuals?
There are young white men here in Chatham County who, like Rittenhouse, have made poor choices. While all people must be responsible for their own actions, they could also use the support and guidance of elders who meet them where they are and point them in a life-giving direction. They need a mentor.
This is an urgent need — for other people are reaching our youth with the wrong messages and even worse things. Rittenhouse was not only given a violent ideology but a semiautomatic rifle. The weapon he used in Kenosha was purchased for him by his sister’s boyfriend, a young man whom Rittenhouse admired.
What are we going to offer the young men in our communities? What can we do to prevent acts of violence? What wisdom can we share? What hope? What love? These questions extend to people of all races.
I also wish to make a specific call for white people to mentor young white men. I learned this from yet another Black mentor. Pastor and community organizer LaShauna Austria led an anti-racism workshop at my church last summer. She gave this charge to our primarily white congregation: “You need to reach out to the young white men. They are most likely to listen to you.”
In order to give hope to others, we must have hope ourselves. We cannot write off or give up on any young person in our community. It boils down to this question: Are you willing to dedicate the time and energy necessary to become a mentor? I hope so …
There’s a young person out there who needs you.
Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. His newly-published book is a collection of his columns for the Chatham News + Record titled “Hope Matters: Churchless Sermons.”
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