LIMA — Christopher Jackson, a certified fire safety inspector for the Lima Fire Department, has been mentoring young men for a long time. With nine children of his own, including four sons, Jackson made his ministry to area youth more formal when he started Brother’s Keeper in the fall of 2013.
“Brother’s Keeper is an organization that is looking to partner with young men in Lima,” said Jackson. “We want to mentor and steer them in the right direction.”
The organization started from a phone call last fall from a local businessman who had observed there were a lot of fights and bullying as students walked to and from school. Jackson and a group of other men started going out to just be a presence in the neighborhood.
“I named it Brother’s Keeper because I have this picture at home,” said Jackson. “It says, ‘Am I my brother’s keeper.’”
When he named the organization, Jackson was unaware of President Barack Obama’s initiative under the same name.
The number of volunteers involved has fluctuated since Jackson started Brother’s Keeper. “I have about half a dozen volunteers I can count on,” he said.
The volunteers include a variety of men from different races, churches and backgrounds. “They are just men that are concerned about the community as a whole,” Jackson explained.
Once cold weather settled into the area, Jackson and his volunteers started meeting the young men in their homes or other locations. “The most successful way to tutor these young men is one on one,” said Jackson. “You have to gain their trust because they have trust issues. They think anyone that talks to them is out to lock them up.”
Jackson said that the young men he mentors are intelligent and articulate but feel that nobody hears them. “I just have to be an ear to listen,” he said. “I listen and then I try to help them find solutions. So many of these young men feel trapped and that no one is listening.”
Jackson sees media as a big part of the problem. “There is a statistic that on average, a kid spends 10 hours a day with media of some kind, whether that is TV, the internet, cell phones, video games, whatever,” he said. “The average time a kid spends with their father is seven minutes. Media is raising the kids, not the parents, and media glamorizes things like drugs, cars, girls and all that.”
Jackson, who is 50, added that many of those he mentors also do not think in the long term. “I’ve had young men look at me and say they are not afraid to die,” he said. “That is a scary issue to me. They don’t see themselves my age. It’s not even a thought to them. Their motto is live fast, die young.”
This is why he feels that spending quality time with these young men is so important. “You almost have to adopt these young men,” he said. “You have to pick them up, check their grades — with their parents’ permission — spend quality time with them. If we don’t take time to mentor them, then we will have to take time to bury them.”
To this end, Jackson has taken three young men into his home over the years. He said that two of them have been success stories. His goal is to mentor the young men through college and to be successful with the goal of them becoming the mentors in the future.
Eventually, Jackson would like to see at least 100 adult men volunteer to mentor one on one. “I’d like to take our ministry to the street,” he said, “to confront these young men in their own territory and sit with them and talk to find solutions.”
Although Brother’s Keeper is a ministry, Jackson said they introduce the spiritual side slowly. “Most of these guys have been brought up in church,” he said. “In the black community, church is a big thing, but it’s a Sunday only thing for these guys. So we try to lead by example. If we push too fast, it scares them away.”
Although Jackson has personally helped hundreds of young men over the years and Brother’s Keeper as an organization has helped at least 30, the work is not without its frustrations. “They get two to three hours of positive reinforcement from us,” he said, “and then are thrown right back into that situation. That’s the frustrating part — they get caught back up in that constant tug of war.”
Jackson feels that certain changes in the community would help these young men to find success. “One of the biggest problems is there are a lack of jobs and extra-curricular programming. There is too much idle time,” he said. “The other thing is that a lot do get into trouble, but they don’t get a second chance. One mistake does not equal a hardened criminal.”