Since becoming a mentor with 100 Black Men of Augusta, he has had five mentees, and he still keeps in touch with all of them.
“They’ve grown up, moved on and have careers. I still hear from them,” said O’Conner, who is retired from Savannah River Site.
He now serves as president of 100 Black Men of Augusta Inc., whose main focus is mentoring youth ages 8 to 18. The local chapter, one of 117 chapters in the U.S., Europe and Caribbean Islands, has 41 youth involved, mostly black males. Three are girls.
O’Conner has known his current mentee, Te’Sean McGaney, a freshman at Cross Creek High School, since Te’Sean was 8 years old. Te’Sean has a grandfather and uncle, but the 15-year-old said he also looks up to O’Conner as a role model.
“He’s sort of like the dad I didn’t have,” Te’Sean said. “We get to play golf together. We talk about different stuff that goes on with me in high school. He gives me advice on how to get prepared for my future.”
Te’Sean said he used to have a temper problem, but O’Conner has helped him to become more laid back.
O’Conner said he’s thinking about working with a second mentee. A few years ago, he visited Augusta YDC once a week to mentor youth and bring books for them to read.
In an effort to improve the future of today’s black males, several organizations, such as 100 Black Men of Augusta and Alpha Mu Boule’s Project BBUILD (Boule Brothers Uplifting, Influencing, Leading and Developing), are focused on serving as mentors for these youth.
Ninety percent of the youth involved with 100 Black Men of Augusta are from single-parent homes, mostly with a woman as head of the household, O’Conner said. The youth are not considered at-risk, but their mothers sought out the organization for a male role model for their children. The program accepts applications from all youth, regardless of income, and they can remain in the program until they graduate high school.
The youth have access to one-on-one and group mentoring. The local chapter has 31 members, ranging from educators and businessmen to engineers. Mentors are required to check in with their mentees at least once a week and take mentees on outings, such as sporting events, meals or church. The chapter tracks progress by keeping up with the youths’ grades, behavior and maturity.
“You can tell the ones that don’t have a male figure in the household. We’re trying to get these kids to come up right, get educated and be productive in society. I’ve seen some great improvement,” O’Conner said.
Twice a month on Saturdays, the youth gather with their mentors for workshops, such as Things a Gentleman Should Know and Choices, Decisions and Consequences. For the past two years, 100 Black Men of Augusta has also mentored at-risk youth from Augusta Partnership for Children.
“We need more organizations to do mentoring. Scholarships are great, but you really need to be in touch with these youth,” O’Conner said. “They need more than finances to help them in school. They need to learn how to live and how to respect each other.”
PROJECT BBUILD is a partnership with Alpha Mu Boule of Sigma Pi Phi Fraternity, the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Central Savannah River Area and Richmond County Public School System.
Now in its fourth year, Project BBUILD is a weekly mentoring and tutoring program primarily for at-risk black males attending a public middle school in Richmond County. The program focuses on academic, cultural and social development and meets every Saturday during the school year.
Winston Butler has been a mentor with 100 Black Men of Augusta since 1998. The immediate past president of the chapter is now the parental advisor. He has known his mentee Ricardo Simmons, now 16, since Ricardo was 10. He’s had the chance to watch him grow up.
“It’s been sort of amazing. There have been some good times and struggling times for him. Over those six years, he’s made tremendous improvement,” Butler said. “He’s always done well in school. He’s a good kid.
“He has a lot to offer, and I think he’s going to do well in life.”
Ricardo volunteered to participate in the Fort Gordon Youth Challenge Academy, where Butler said he has been doing well. His picture is on the Wall of Fame at Fort Gordon, and he will graduate from the program in early March.
Ricardo said Butler takes him to the movies, out to eat or to work with him. He’s the only male role model in his life, he said.
“The one thing about having a mentor, they’re there for you if you need advice on some things you don’t feel comfortable talking to your family about,” Ricardo said. “He helps out with my schooling, counseling and things like that. He’s always been there for me. He’s a good person.”
Butler said he realized black youth have a great need, but mentoring is needed for any child if the male role model is missing.
“There’s some things that the woman just can’t provide. A male needs a bond with a male role model,” Butler said.
“Even though the female person in their life can tell them those things, when they see it and you’re interacting with them, it seems like it drives the point home a whole lot better.