Founder and CEO of the National CARES Mentoring Movement and Editor-in-Chief Emerita of Essence magazine Susan L. Taylor continues her work in improving the lives of youth through her organization.
An area of urgent concern for Taylor is the growing suicide rate among young Black people between five at 24. The Centers for Disease Control on Prevention (CDC) reports one in five Black high school students reported seriously considering attempting suicide in the past year.
Bullying, social media, family issues, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic were some of the factors driving the disturbing number.
National CARES hosted its ninth annual “For The Love Of Our Children Gala” Feb. 29th at Pier 60 to honor several women. The event serves as a fundraiser and call to action to get more people involved in the organization’s mission of transforming the lives of impoverished Black children.
In an interview with the AmNews, Taylor said National CARES was founded during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city of New Orleans in 2005 where the Essence Music Festival (now Essence Festival) is held.
“When Katrina devastated New Orleans, I said to the Essence family, ‘We have to do more than just return to New Orleans,’” she said. “We just said we’re going to do something significant. The idea didn’t take too long to emerge. Mentoring. Let’s get the community involved in the recovery and forward movement of our children.”
Operating in 58 cities, National CARES recruits mentors who want to be involved with young people and deploy them to mentor organizations that have a hard time recruiting Black Americans.
After visiting a school in South Florida where she saw several teenage girls with children, Taylor was inspired to expand National CARES to building programs.
In addition to its mentorship program, the organization also runs the Rising, which prepares children in high-poverty families to succeed in school and life; the HBCU Rising, which connects students at historically Black colleges with corporate volunteers in STEM-related professions; and the University for Parents, a workforce readiness program for parents.
“We cannot leave the forward movement of our young to people outside of our community. We need allies,” Taylor said. “We need all hands on deck. But I believe it’s those of us who come from that community, those of us who are of that community, we must be in leadership.”
Taylor calls the alarming suicide rates among Black youth a “national tragedy without a national response.” While there are several contributing factors, she says the mental health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is still affecting Black youth.
“What this generation has experienced is far beyond anything we could have ever imagined. They lost community. They lost time with one another,” Taylor said. “One in four of the young ones who lost parents to the virus is Black. There’s a lot of hurt, there’s a lot of pain, there’s a lot of loss.”
Taylor arranged for Black youth to speak with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, resulting in the commission of a report with research led by Dr. Cheryl Grills and the Association of Black Psychologists. The young people’s message was simple: See us and hear us.
“Our young people are under so much pressure,” Taylor said. “The pressure from social media is beyond. These are the things that have really caused so many young people to give up hope and without hope what you have is major depression. So, we’ve dived in more deeply than ever. We’ve deepened our curriculum.”
As the need for mental health services for youth grows, a recent report by the AmNews revealed parents across that nation are often reluctant to take advantage of counseling services at public schools. Factors include ongoing stigmas, religion, financial, and even political reasons. Taylor said parents should explore mental help options for children — if not, it could result in a tragic ending.
“When we see that young people are in crisis, or we’re not trained to help them, it’ll be very wise for parents to say we need some professional help, especially when they’re asking,” she said. “Parents have to be wise enough to listen and to know that therapy is needed because you don’t want to have to be planning a funeral when you could [be] taking your young one to a therapy session.”
At the National CARES ninth annual gala, three women were honored with the organization’s North Star Award: billionaire and philanthropist Dr. Trisha Bailey, Association of Black Foundation Executives President and CEO Susan Taylor Batten, and Grace Global Capital Founder and Managing Director Grace Vandecruze.
Television personality Sherri Shepherd served as the gala’s host, with Angela Bassett and Courtney B. Vance serving as honorary co-chairs. R&B singer Kenny Latimore and poet Jessica Care Moore will gave special performances.
“Our Brain Trust of highly regarded leaders in the medical, educational, wellness, artistic, and advocacy fields created a guide that frames the CARES curriculum,” Taylor said. “It is facilitated in group-mentoring sessions by psychologists, other wellness experts, volunteer mentors and our Community Action Partners. It’s evidence-based, independently evaluated, and proven as deeply effective. It must be fully and nationally scaled to meet the need.”
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The Philadelphia Orchestra’s home is being renamed Marian Anderson Hall in honor of the pioneering Black American contralto, a rare case of an artist’s name replacing a corporation.
The orchestra’s auditorium in the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts was known as Verizon Hall from 1999 through 2023, as part of a $14.5 million contribution agreed to by Bell Atlantic Corp. before its name change in 2000 to Verizon Communications Inc.
Anderson, who died in 1993 at age 96, was born in Philadelphia and in 1955 became the first Black singer to appear at New York’s Metropolitan Opera. The renaming was announced Wednesday, a day after the 127th anniversary of her birth.
“Knowing Marian, she would be humble,” said her niece, Ginette DePriest, the wife of late conductor James DePriest. “She always used to say: ‘Don’t make any fuss about this,’ but I think that the fact that it’s her hometown that she adores — I think she would be obviously honored but mostly humbled by by this gesture.”
Richard Worley and wife Leslie Miller, who live in suburban Bryn Mawr, are underwriting the name change with a $25 million gift to the Philadelphia Orchestra and Kimmel Center, which united in 2021. Worley joined the orchestra’s board in 1997 and served as its president from 2009-20; Miller was on the Kimmel Center board from 1999-2008, serving as acting president.
“A tribute to Marian Anderson of this nature, we think it’s long overdue,” Miller said. “She was an iconic artist and she fought discrimination at every turn with grace and grit and kept on going. She deserves this kind of recognition.”
The newly named hall will reopen with a concert on June 8 featuring music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducting a program with Broadway star Audra McDonald, soprano Angel Blue and pianist Marcus Roberts.
Philadelphia orchestra CEO Matías Tarnopolsky made a presentation to the board in August 2022 to name the hall after Anderson.
“We feel that what we’ve done for the orchestra and other Philadelphia institutions is well-enough known and well-enough recognized,” Miller said. “We just thought with a non-corporate name and a name in honor of someone that deserves the honor we might be able over time to raise more money for sustaining the hall than if we named it after an individual donor.”
A statue of Anderson is planned for the vicinity of the hall.
“We hope that in naming the hall Marian Anderson it will be an indication of the efforts that the orchestra is making to diversify its audiences, its programing, and in so doing, to be more relevant to all Philadelphians and beyond,” Miller said.
Tarnopolsky and music director Nézet-Séguin have in recent years programmed music written by Black Americans Florence Price, Valerie Coleman and William Grant Still.
“We have a lot of catching up to do,” Tarnopolsky said. “We began that journey several years ago and it’s ongoing and we feel like we’re making some really positive change. So what’s the logical next chapter is what we asked ourselves. And we thought about the legendary artist, civil rights icon and Philadelphian Marian Anderson.”
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New York Cares kicks off its “Extra Day of Care,” initiative on February 29th, 2024, collaborating with West Side Campaign Against Hunger, to pack food for those in need. Dozens of volunteers will gather at the organization’s Manhattan location to assemble meals for distribution. This “Extra Day of Care” is just one of over 40…
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