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Farewell, Great Oak: Why I Quit…

After eight years volunteering with Great Oak Youth Development Center (GOYDC), my involvement with the organization has ended totally. In April 2014, I reduced my responsibilities as explained in an email that may be viewed on my website by going to this link: www.karlmerritt.com/articles/. When I joined with Dr. Catrina Murphy and Bobby Washington to start this endeavor in 2006, we settled on a mission in which I still believe. Given the tremendous support and cooperation I received from so many individuals, businesses, organizations, boys in our programs and their parents/guardians, I owe some explanation as to the reasons for ending my relationship with Great Oak. The reasons are summarized below and then addressed in detail:

  1. My need to directly challenge actions that suppress opposing views, seek to control thought, and manipulate responses; thereby, creating in people a victim mentality, an attitude of entitlement, moral decay, and the reduction, if not total demise, of hope. The end result of this process based on my observations is greatly diminished likelihood of successful living.
  2.  My life experiences cause me to prefer an approach that addresses the “Black Male Crisis” by working with small groups of young men. I expect Great Oak will shift from this approach.
  3. Given what I have seen, especially recently, of the federal government’s actions, I have no interest in working with any endeavor that receives funding from the federal government. I see Great Oak as a prime candidate for such funding.
  4. In spite of my efforts across the years, I do not perform anywhere near full potential in a bureaucracy. The work of Great Oak dictates that it operate in a rather bureaucratic fashion.

The promised greater detail follows.

Challenging success-diminishing actions: My observation is that there are actions being taken by various people in our society that rob individuals of hope and, thereby, extinguish the capacity for dreaming. The end result is that far too many people end up never coming close to reaching their potential. I thought I would spend the rest of my life addressing this condition through volunteering with Great Oak. That thought started to wane several years ago when word began coming to me that there were prominent black citizens of Fayetteville who indicated they would not support Great Oak as long as I was with the organization. Apparently they disagreed with my thinking and commentary on social and political matters. None of these individuals ever bothered to discuss their objections with me. I can only assume they were displeased with my actions such as voicing opposition to President Obama and not voting for him in either presidential election, speaking up for former Police Chief Tom Bergamine and the Fayetteville Police Department during the “Driving While Black” controversy, promoting self-responsibility instead of entitlement programs, and so on.

I have yet to understand this denial of support to Great Oak tactic. Since everything I did for the organization was as a volunteer…never received a penny in payment for my involvement, they were not affecting my income. I cannot see how this tactic would be expected to help achieve the primary goal which clearly was to shut me up, bring me in line with the way “black Americans are supposed to think and act.”

While giving some thought to this support denial tactic, I was also seeing in many of the boys with whom I worked a victim mentality, an attitude of entitlement, moral decay, and the total absence of hope on their part for the future. That absence of hope robs them of the capacity to dream. I wondered how this could be the case given all the positive input to these young lives provided by the Great Oak experience. My reflection on the “denial of support tactic” gave the answer. These boys are more exposed to and influenced by the kind of thinking that produces that denial of support tactic than by what a Great Oak provides. I must challenge, call out, this success-diminishing thinking that not only adversely affects black boys, but anybody it influences. I cannot pursue challenging this thinking and remain involved with Great Oak.

Large group approach to the “Black Male Crisis”: My conclusion is that providers of large grants want to know that an organization is serving a sizable number of program participants. Experiences across all of my life and especially the last eight years have convinced me that in addressing the crisis among black males, the closer an organization gets to one-on-one relationships between helpers and those being helped; the more effective will be the effort. To survive, my expectation is that Great Oak will have to dramatically increase the ratio of boys to providers of assistance. Given my strongly held conviction regarding what is the more effective approach, I choose not to wait for this expected ratio shift.

Dependence on government: Given that there is activity at the federal level regarding the circumstance of black males in America, my expectation is that Great Oak will eventually pursue and receive federal funding for its efforts. I understand the thinking in this regard; however, I am very disheartened by the federal government’s dismal track record relative to effectiveness, efficiency, and fairness in its activities. From the troubled roll-out of the Affordable Care Act website to forcing Americans to act contrary to their religious beliefs, the listing of actions that rob me of trust in my government is almost endless. I am not willing to be in partnership with a government that brings this track record to the table. Let me be clear…I love America and would not want to live in any other country. There is no need to put me on a “watch list.”

Limited by bureaucracy: After all these years of living, I have finally admitted that I do not function well in a bureaucracy. Bureaucracy is defined as “government by bureaus, especially by rigid and arbitrary routine.” I understand that organizations must have a hierarchy which normally includes a board of directors and other levels. My difficulty is in dealing with all the back-and-forth required to make things happen in this setting. Given that I have a lot less time of living in front of me than behind, I need the latitude to “make stuff happen.” Even though bureaucracies often get some things done, my “make stuff happen” approach does not fit with bureaucratic approaches. In my estimation, like most organizations, Great Oak is a bureaucracy. Consequently, therein is my final reason for moving on.

My thanks to all who chose to support Great Oak over the past eight years during my involvement with the organization. You are “Sources of Hope.” I look forward to future partnerships committed to “Helping Build a Better World.”

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