Every Tuesday, I take a 15 minute car ride to a North Nashville church to tutor a young boy named Kenny for TAP, which stands for The Afterschool Program. Along with the 30 or so other Vanderbilt students who attend TAP on Tuesdays as mentors, I help my assigned kid with his homework, practicing reading, or just playing board games. The children who are the beneficiaries of this program are all at-risk African-American youth who come from difficult family situations. Only 1 in 4 children in this North Nashville community can read, write, and compute on grade level, and at the high school most of them will attend only 1% of students score higher than a 21 on their ACTs.
Over the course of the few months I have been with TAP, my perspectives have shifted in how I view the disparity between the mentors and the mentees. The differences are obvious. We attend Vanderbilt, a prestigious institution, whereas the children go to a range of underfunded elementary and middle schools. Most of us come from a middle to high socioeconomic class, while these children struggle with poverty at home. The most apparent difference, though, is that most of us are white, and all of them are black. Usually, I would not think much of the fact that we are so different from them. After all, we all like to read Doctor Seuss books or play Uno. But, I’ve started to think a bit more of the perspectives each of us take and how that affects our differences. For example, my friend told me a story about an encounter she had with her mentee: She had to miss TAP one week for a test, and then when she came back the next week, her kid ran up to her with the biggest smile and gave her a hug. He told her how happy he was to see her, and said he didn’t think she would be back this week. She explained that she just had to miss last week, but of course she would come back. He seemed confused, and said he just figured since she didn’t come back that one week, that she wouldn’t ever be back. Stories like these show how important programs like TAP are, to show these kids who may not have very many constants in their lives that they are still cared about.
I really have appreciated and enjoyed the time I have spent with Kenny, and hope to continue to be part of this program for the rest of my time with Vanderbilt. I’m glad that TAP has given me the chance to see that while he and I are very different and lead incredibly different lives, every child should have the opportunity to learn and make a better life for themselves than their parents were able to offer them.