More mentors needed in Bibb County where ‘the streets call the children all the time’

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Grant Blankenship | Georgia Public Broadcasting

The Mentors Project of Bibb County’s Executive Director June O’Neal takes blankets to a family of 8 living in a south Macon motel room in late 2022. O’Neal says her program needs new mentors to fulfill its core goals.

A record 70 people were killed in homicides in Bibb County last year. At least six of the 16 teenagers slain were students who died from gunshot wounds, according to death certificates obtained by Georgia Public Broadcasting.

On Tuesday, the shooting death of a 15-year-old marked the county’s second homicide of 2023.

January is National Mentoring Month and The Mentor’s Project of Bibb County is seeking 70 new mentors in memory of each person slain in 2022.

“We are desperate because the streets call the children all the time and we hope that education and the mentor will call their name louder than the street does,” Mentor’s Project Executive Director June O’Neal said. “We lost mentors during the pandemic and some of them haven’t returned.”

Mentors need to spend four hours a month with students, a time investment comparable to watching a football game, getting a manicure and pedicure or attending a sporting event, she said. Mentors are paired with a middle or high school student through graduation.

A meet and greet for folks who are interested in becoming a mentor is set for Friday from 5:30-7 p.m. downtown at Serenity Entertainment Complex, 427 Poplar Street, Suite A. O’Neal is seeking adults from college-aged to retired. There’s an acute need for more male mentors.

“Oftentimes, people feel like mentors need to wear a suit and tie to work every day. That’s absolutely not true,” O’Neal said. “It can be a person that owns a dealership, that details the car, that sells the car, that works on the car, any kind of profession is welcome and needed.”

Bibb County Sheriff’s Lt. Reginald Thomas said these are trying times when it comes to youth violence and the need for mentors is dire.

“If you really want to do something about the violence in Macon, I think mentorship is where you should start,” Thomas said. “We have a crisis with mentorship … Get involved in these kids’ lives, and not just the kids that have trouble, but a kid that seems to be untroubled, because the bad elements out there are recruiting the good kids.”

Thomas, who works in the outreach section of the sheriff’s office, said mentorships open up avenues for kids to “express themselves, speak out about what’s going right with them and what’s going wrong with them and have somebody of the same mindset, as a leader, to show them and teach them the right way to think about things.”

Violence is a learned behavior, Thomas said, and young people need more guidance and positive reinforcement to counter the daily barrage of negativity on social media, in popular music, at school or at home.

“Everything around them is violent or even negative,” Thomas said. “A lot of these kids deal with trauma and there’s nobody to recognize that they’re going through the trauma. That causes them to act out and it causes them to believe that life is supposed to be a certain way.”

Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones said many of last year’s killings stemmed from “anger and conflict.”

“Every leader is concerned about the violence and the crime in our community,” Jones said. “Every citizen, every business person, every clergy should stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough.’”

Jones was raised in a single-parent household and said his life could have taken a different path had he not had a strict mother and good male role models in his neighborhood and at church.

“It’s imperative that men get involved in young men’s lives from a positive standpoint,” Jones said. “Tell them and show them the right way.”

For more information about The Mentor’s Project of Bibb County, call 478-765-8624 or email [email protected]

To contact Civic Journalism Fellow Laura Corley, email [email protected] or call 478-301-5777.