FLINT, MI —It’s 6:45 am on a Monday and Pastor Jimmie Whitaker along with nearly 20 other people line up at the two entry ways of Northwestern high school waiting for buses to arrive.
“Good morning,” Whitaker says to students coming into the building. “Stay focused.”
“Stay on point.”
“I’m proud of you.”
There are smiles, hugs, handshakes and high fives. Some students welcome them, other students largely ignore them. Whether the teens appreciate it or not—they’ve got support from Whitaker and others. These volunteers will keep being here, again and again, to tell students that someone cares, that they care, that we care.
“I believe and I hope that it leaves an impression on them that somebody actually does care and they do matter,” Whitaker said. “Some kids—even though they don’t get it at first—little by little, it still leaves an impression. … As I work with the kids down through the years, I’ve become very aware that they have needs.
“The family structure is suffering. I volunteer to come to the school to help bridge that gap. … Our community should rally around our children to help promote healthy thoughts and energy.”
Hubert Roberts launched the monthly effort to greet students at Northwestern after hearing about other similar programs. A group “Calling All Brothers” started the nationwide trend after it brought together 100 black men in suits to greet students in the fall on their first day of school at a Connecticut elementary school.
It spread to Flint, like so many other communities, but we made it our own. We made it bigger and better.
While other communities greet students on the first day of school, Whitaker, Roberts and others just keep coming back, month after month, for nearly two years.
“We need to do all we can to embrace these children,” Roberts said. “We are going to try to impact them the best way we can.”
The volunteers are there to encourage, to support, and to be role models of success.
“It’s good,” said Dorian Brown, a junior at Northwestern High School. “He’s doing good to come up there and greet the kids and help wake them up before they start school. He gets a lot of men to come up there and help with greeting and stuff, and I think it’s nice.”
Part of a larger Flint Community Schools’ program called, “Value Our Children,” volunteers greet students at least once a month. They are at Northwestern the first Monday of the month and expanded last month to also include Southwestern Academy, visiting the fourth Monday of the month.
“Because I’m up there at least three days per week and really working with the kids, I see the hopelessness and some of the anger kids had been expressing in our classes,” Roberts said. “A lot of times students are frustrated from coming through the metal detectors at the front door.”
Flint Community Schools Superintendent Bilal Tawwab said the encouragement will help continue with district efforts to build students’ self-esteem and a self-value.
“This community stands behind its children and schools in remarkable ways,” Tawwab said. “I am grateful for these continued efforts to demonstrate to our students that they are valued and that they have a bright future ahead of them if they stay in school.”
For more information or to volunteer, call Hubert Roberts at (810) 394-4105.