One day last year, I had a strange feeling. One of the younger boys at my school who I was mentoring had told me he was being bullied and he didn’t know how to deal with it. He didn’t want to tell his parents because they wouldn’t understand why, given his size, he couldn’t defend himself. He also didn’t want to report the bullies and be a snitch.
It got to the point where he was either going to hurt himself or them. That day, I headed over to his house after school and got there just in time to prevent a terrible tragedy because my friend was about to do something bad.
It was both the saddest and the proudest day of my life because I had literally helped save his life. I felt like a real citizen.
I wasn’t always that guy, but I became that guy because of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project.
Middle school, for reasons I still haven’t figured out, was a really tough period for me. I had two great parents and a comfortable life, but I was always fighting with other students or being disruptive in the classroom. Sometimes I bullied other kids, not because I had a beef with any of them, but because wanting to fit in, I followed the “lead” of the wrong people.
This kind of behavior got me suspended and expelled, and as a result I attended three different schools in three years.
There have been times when my friends and I have felt like members of an endangered species.
I was 13 when Trayvon Martin was killed, and that was the first time I realized that some people might treat me differently or suspiciously because of the color of my skin. Since then, boys who look like me have died at what seems like a rapid rate. Sometimes, the stress of being stereotyped and having strangers feel afraid of us leads to getting into trouble.
It hurts our self-esteem and how we view ourselves, and no matter how grown up we like to think we are, we don’t really know how to deal with that negativity.
When I got to Miami Northwestern, my attitude was better and I didn’t think I needed to join the Role Models. Luckily I didn’t have a choice.
The Role Model mentors are like our dads away from home. People will look at us differently because we’re black, they’ve warned, but it’s how we overcome that prejudice that counts. They teach us how we can all come together as brothers, change each other and become the face of our community.
People can think what they want about me. As long as I have my family and the support of my mentors I know I can be whatever I choose to be.
It may sound kind of corny to my boys when they read this, but when I put on my white shirt, black pants and red Role Models tie, it’s almost like I’m Clark Kent when he goes into the phone booth and comes out Superman.
Anything is possible and nothing is beyond my reach.
Keno Tate, Jr., is a senior at the Miami Northwestern Senior High School.