Tyriek Mack first got involved with Life Pieces to Masterpieces when he was in high school.
The D.C.-based agency empowers kids ages 3 to 25 in Wards 7 and 8, offering things like summer camp programs for kids and year-round after school programs. Mack got involved with the organization’s Saturday Academy, an hourslong initiative on the campus of Georgetown University that teaches high schoolers life skills.
As he got more involved with the group, Mack met William “Elder Bill” Pitts, a family engagement consultant who has also served as a youth mentor. Now a law student at the University of Virginia, Mack credits Pitts’ mentorship for his outlook on success and giving back.
“He really instilled in me lessons of who I am,” Mack said. “Like, what does it really mean to be a young Black man in America, despite what the stereotypes on TV or social media might put in front of you?”
Mack and Pitts shared the value of their relationship during a session on mentorship and supporting youth mental health on Thursday night. The session was part of the 13th annual National Mentoring Summit.
“One of the detriments for me, as for Black boys growing up in America, is this notion that you are not quite human,” Pitts told the room of dozens of people.
Some of the mentors who attended the gathering detailed their efforts to support kids’ mental health, and the young adults reflected on the value of having mentors.
Even in his 30s, Pitts said he needed a mentor, adding that he got the nickname “Elder Bill” because “in our community, young Black boys don’t see an elder that embraces the eldership, and I embrace it.”
After graduating from college, Mack returned to the organization to work with “Elder Bill.” And from afar, he watched as his mentor managed conflict among some of the kids.
“The reality is I’m able to manage conflicts largely because of how I’ve seen ‘Elder Bill’ manage conflicts,” Mack said.
But “Elder Bill” credits the kids’ efforts in putting in the work to accomplish their goals, noting he only interferes when he observes the work isn’t getting done.
“When I hear about a 9-year-old child killed, or 12, or 25, or 30 or 40-year-old person killed, that causes me a lot of pain,” Pitts said. “But I also know when I see (Mack) or other little brothers, what they’re doing, I get a lot of joy.”