I never thought I would stay in the military because I had a big problem with authority. Over time, I began to adapt to the military and decided to make it a career. The 26 years I spent in the Army took a poor boy from Georgia, and transformed him into a well traveled leader of men and women.
JB: How about the lessons you learned over time to adapt to military life? Those same skills have proven useful outside the military as well, no?
MD: Yes, many of the lessons and routines I learned and adapted to in the military have proven to be very useful to me in civilian life. I learned discipline, punctuality and developed a lot of confidence by being pushed and pushing myself to the limit both mentally and physically.
I also learned a lot about other cultures and the struggles people who don't live in the United States go through. Two of the most important lessons I learned in the military were punctuality, and compassion. In the military, you are required to be 10 minutes early for every event. I have been doing that my entire life, and I am usually way more prepared than my colleagues who show up for events at the exact time.
I also learned to be compassionate and understanding of what others are going through. I have seen a lot of suffering while serving in war zones and while deployed to other countries. We are truly blessed in this country to have a decent way of life and opportunities to be successful. I truly believe you cannot be a good leader without compassion. That is why I volunteer to work with at risk youth.
JB: Let's talk about your mentoring. Do you see yourself in these kids? Do you mentor them one at a time, in groups, boys and girls, boys only? Tell us more, please. How exactly do you help them?
MD: I have been mentoring at risk males at Great Oak Youth Development Center for almost a decade, and when I look at some of them it's almost like looking at myself when I was their age. I have mentored three boys one on one since I started. One is in college the other two are still in school; all are doing better since they came into our program. We teach them self confidence, self respect and we work with them on public speaking, making eye contact and other interpersonal skills. We also do group mentoring during the school year through our Men and Boys Unity Program. There we have speakers, law enforcement and community leaders come in and talk to our boys about their jobs and life. It is very rewarding to see a young man come into our program and leave a better person than when they came.
JB: You mention that it's time for African-Americans to take responsibility for their own destiny, not to blame others for a lack of opportunity. But racism has been part of our national psyche since the days of slavery and it remains potent today despite the election of a black president. The news has been full of so many instances of unarmed black teenagers or adults being murdered by police across the country, often caught on video. The recent indictment of a white South Carolina officer for the murder of Walter Scott is the exception rather than the rule. Few of these cases end up with the police being indicted for anything. Your thoughts?
MD: When I say we need to take responsibility for our destiny, I mean that from a standpoint of taking advantage of the opportunities available to us. Every child has an opportunity to get an education, yet I see many African American children squandering that opportunity by not working hard in school.
I also see their parents allowing it to happen by not demanding their children work hard in school. I have also seen some African Americans squander opportunities in the workplace by constantly showing up late, and not working hard on their jobs. African Americans are held to a different standard in every aspect of life. There is no doubt racism still exist; we can't control someone else's racist behavior, but we can control our own.
I have been watching the news reports of all the murders of African Americans by the police. The cases are very disturbing. I have personally been stopped by law enforcement officers many times, but I have never been physically assaulted. I always do what I'm told, and I am always respectful and polite to them.
We need to teach our children at an early age what to do, and how to address police officers when pulled over by one. There is nothing we can do if a police officer decides to physically assault us, however I think it would be very hard for an officer to do that if you obey their orders and are respectful to them.
There are good police out there, unfortunately there are bad ones, too. My nonprofit works very closely with the police in our town; they regularly come in and speak to our kids. We had an officer come in yesterday and talk to them about personal choices and responsibility.
Matt with first mentee at high school graduation, 2014
(Image by Matthew Drayton collection) Details DMCA