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Cornelius News

A gap year for Big Day at the Lake, but need remains

Donna Dunlap, seen here with 12-year-old Little Sister Jaliyah, is CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Carolinas and is herself a single mom with an adopted son.

By Dave Yochum. For the past 16 years, July has been an important time of year for hundreds of Lake Norman Boat Hosts, volunteers and mentors in Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Carolinas, not to mention literally thousands of at risk kids in and around Charlotte.

It’s time for Big Day at the Lake, or it would have been had it not been for the coronavirus pandemic. This is the time of year BDATL volunteers organized everything from the Blessing of the Fleet to a picnic for 700—thanks to local restaurants, food purveyors and sponsors, not to mention local police and fire departments.

We had three simple goals all these years: A full day of fun for kids who would not otherwise experience Lake Norman, raise money for a worthy organization; and recruit Bigs or mentors for BBBS.

Bringing people together

There is another part of the mission that’s equally important right now: Big Day at the Lake brought people together who otherwise wouldn’t have gotten to know each other. For the kids, this is the “social capital” that is lacking in Charlotte. The lack of social capital is one of the reasons we rank 50th out of 50 cities in terms of the ability of those on the margins to rise out of poverty.

“Big Day at the Lake is an exceptional example of a community coming together to share their access to a beautiful lake community with young people who in many cases have never seen a lake or been on a boat or have had the experience of actually being in the water before,” says Donna Dunlap, CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Carolinas.

Agency staff is working from home in these COVID-19 times, and mentoring is happening over the phone and online. It’s a different world, not just because of the pandemic, but because of the growing awareness of the racial divide in America underscored over and over again in the weeks following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

“We were able to motivate a lot of good behaviors and great grades all year long utilizing Big Day at the Lake as an inspiration,” said Dunlap.

An African American with a very successful sales career in corporate America, Dunlap is herself a single mom with an adopted son, also African American.

We asked for her perspective on a few topics related to current events in May and June.

Has life for a young black person improved or worsened from when you were a teen?

Dunlap: Sadly, the recent history of police brutality and racism targeting young black and brown people has not gotten better. What has changed since I was a teen are two things. One, there are now more people of color in positions of influence, both in the public and private sector who can help bring about change. We have come a long way!

The second big change is technology. Now systemic racism, social injustice and police brutality are being recorded on video both visually and verbally for all to witness.

That is what has caused such a strong reaction to the death of George Floyd. A black man (not resisting being arrested) losing his life due to excessive force by a police officer. The reality is, this has been taking place for centuries. This time the world was able to witness it, so no one could deny that it happened. Now, we can hopefully all come together to put a stop to it.

Black and brown people cannot bring about the necessary changes in our society to address systemic racism alone. All people must come together to make it happen so that we can be truly united as a nation.This is a very promising moment in our history. The reaction of our young people gives me hope that they will not tolerate systemic racism and they will be an essential enabler to helping our country rise above it.

Does an education make up for a lack of social capital?

Dunlap: An education is an important credential to validate your accomplishments academically. My parents were very insistent that I have both a BA and an MBA degree. Their thoughts were, “don’t let lack of knowledge get in the way of fulfilling your dreams.” Yet, all of the education in the world does not guarantee opportunities.

Social capital is critical to making those opportunities and connections available to help a person advance in the world. We, at Big Brothers Big Sisters, utilize the social capital of our mentors (Bigs) and of our agency to help the youth we serve.

Seeing a Big Brother/Sister help their Little get a summer job because of a connection he/she has is a perfect example. Bigs often provide connections to tutors, work opportunities, college admission, scholarships, resources and programs for development. This is the basic support that most young people have, but is not readily available to the many children who are living in poverty.

Have you had “the talk” with your son?

Dunlap: I am the parent of a 17-year-old Black male. I adopted my son as a single parent when he was an infant. Yes, we have had the talk at least once every year since he was 10 years old regarding how to properly engage with the police to minimize his chances of having a negative encounter with a police officer.

For those not familiar with “the talk,” it is sharing with a young person of color (male or female) how to behave if stopped by the police.

Typical parental guidance includes but is not limited to the following: Put your hands out front where they can be seen. Do not make any sudden movements. Any movements you do make explain them to the officer what you are doing and move very slowly (i.e. “Officer, may I reach for my license, insurance or registration.”) If appropriate, state that you do not have a weapon or drugs in the car. Do not question the officer. Do not talk back or make any disrespectful comments. Reply to what you are asked with a “yes sir” or “ma’am” or “no sir” or “ma’am.” Do as you are told.

The closing of the talk is let’s both pray you come home alive and well. Sadly my son and I will continue to have the talk at least once a year until I am assured we have changed culturally as a nation.