Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Big Brothers Need Minority Volunteers

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Big Brothers Need Minority Volunteers

Article excerpt

WHILE SOME African-Americans carry on a seemingly endless debate over whether whites should be allowed to adopt black children, Manuel Chatman Jr. is facing a problem that he feels is more pressing.

Chatman is in charge of minority recruitment for the Big Brothers & Big Sisters of Greater St. Louis, a position one might consider a thankless job: as of December, the latest date for which figures are available, of the 283 youngsters who have been paired with big brothers or big sisters, only 38 - or 14 percent - have been minorities. Of the 144 youngsters on the agency's waiting list, 64 of them - or 45 percent - are minorities.

A big part of the problem, says Chatman, is a dearth of African-American volunteers to work with youngsters. Chatman says he's unsure why that is.

Black kids are better off with any mentors, of any race, than with none, he says. But they would be especially helped if they had black role models, with whom they might be able to identify more closely. As it stands now, though, more black kids are paired up with white big brothers and sisters than black ones.

Not nearly enough blacks volunteer to work with the program. That disturbs Chatman, especially when he sees how much volunteering has enriched his own life.

Chatman is a big brother to a 12-year-old boy.

The youngster - whose parents have been "virtually nonexistent," he says - lives with his grandmother. The youngster's grandmother works but is not in good health, and his grandfather is an invalid.

"I'm sort of a father figure to him more than an older brother," Chatman said. "I enjoy it, and he enjoys it, too."

Big Brothers & Big Sisters asks volunteers to give a youngster three to five hours a week for a year. Chatman and his family became so attached to the young man that they've spent four years with him.

When the family goes to cultural events, he goes with them. When the family goes on vacation, he goes, too.

Chatman, who is married and the father of two daughters, 22 and 15, says he has seen the young man develop.

"When I first met him he was quiet and shy," Chatman said. "He was 9 years old and in the second grade. …

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