By Nicholas Ibarra | OBSERVER Staff Writer
“The endurance of the village sits on the shoulders of those who serve.”The Council of Elders, Metro Sacramento.
The Council of Elders Metro Sacramento recently held their “Honoring Our Ancestors: Passing Of The Torch” ceremony. The Oct. 2 event recognized the accomplishments of those who serve on the council.
Inspired by the late Dr. William H. Lee and other men making an impact in their communities, Gregory King, 62, Steve Streeter, 66, and Chet Hewitt, 62, founded the Council of Elders Metro Sacramento in 2016 to encourage, promote, and support access to diverse learning opportunities for African Americans. Working in collaboration with teachers, administrators, community leaders, families, and the Sacramento community, the council has grown to 100 members and will have celebrated their second graduating class since its inaugural year.
They began as a healing circle, but after coming together and healing themselves and developing trust and love, they realized it was time for them to share.
The brothers of the Council of Elders have helped create programs all around Sacramento, such as Another Choice–Another Chance, Always Knocking, Hooked on Fishing, I Am My Brothers Keeper, Growing Oak Park, and more.
It is in these programs that organizers have seen the results of their work.
“Our statistics are presented through the achievements of our men and leaders in their communities,” Hewitt said. “Individuals who have started nonprofits, participants in the Black Child Legacy Campaign who’ve reduced African American mortality, and the efforts of responding to violence in the streets.”
They were recently tapped by the Sacramento City Unified School District to initiate a contract that will allow them to intervene in their disciplinary cases. If a student is misbehaving or acting out, instead of being suspended or expelled, the Council of Elders Metro Sacramento will be called to work with each and every student that is experiencing problems in school.
“We feel that we can be most impactful by working with our own kids,” Streeter said. “We’re trying to break the cycle from school to prison.”
Hewitt echoed similar sentiments.
“We reach a stage in our lives where we understand the importance of pouring back into our younger leaders, as they begin to position themselves to lead into the future,” he said. “While you reach that place, you understand that there is a lot of wisdom and experience that you have. By passing that on to folks who are going to be stepping into leadership roles, perhaps, they will be able to do more, do it more quickly, and be better prepared for the kind of success that we know that our communities need.”
Dedrick Suggs, 43, joined the Council of Elders Metro Sacramento at its inception. He is a member of the 40 under 50 group, allowing him to be mentored by King. Suggs is also responsible for mentoring young people.
Suggs grew up in the streets of Oak Park, Sacramento. He said he had done everything one could think of while being a kid on the streets — drug dealing, drug using, gangbanging. Suggs was tired of the lifestyle, so he decided to make a change and turn his life around. It was difficult for him to do this at first, he said, since everyone thought that he was full of “BS” because of his long standing reputation as a “thug.”
“I don’t think I would have made it this far without the help, the knowledge, and the resources,” Suggs said of the Council of Elders Metro Sacramento. “Not having somebody to call when times get hard, when you’re struggling in faith is extremely difficult — you need those things. You have to have them.”
King remains the guiding light for Suggs, while he also learns to share his newfound light with others.
Suggs added that being mentored by King was, and remains a blessing. He has received countless amounts of knowledge, resources, tools, and support.
“You need support, you need help, you need the network of people to be able to be effective because sometimes it gets tough,” he continued.
The council is made up of four pillars: The elders and the yelders (who make up the council), the 40 under 50, and young people (who are being mentored to be community leaders to one day join the council). The young people are trying to ultimately join 40 under 50; the 40 under 50 are looking to become a yelder, and a yelder is working to become an elder.
The elders are 70 or older. Their role is to guide, support, pass on knowledge and traditions, provide a shoulder to lean on, and ultimately pass the torch onto the next generation.
The yelders are 69 or younger. Their role is to carry on the mission of the elders. They also support the 40 under 50, their goals and accomplishments that they’re trying to receive in the community, the job that they’re doing, and the support services that they’re trying to provide.
The 40 under 50 consists of 40 men recruited to continue to improve their neighborhoods. Their role is to mentor the young people through work in the community and to provide support services through the creation of youth programs and volunteering.
The young people are aged 20 or younger. Their role is to learn from those above them and absorb as much information as possible.
“It’s bigger than us. It’s up to us to pass that knowledge on because of all the knowledge that I have, it is not going to do me any good — once I transition into heaven — to take it with me. I have to make sure that I pass it along,” King said. “That’s what ‘Honoring Our Ancestors: Passing Of The Torch’ is about, passing it down to the next person. Not just passing down knowledge, but also to support brothers and their roles in the community.”
King said being a mentor means to make sure his knowledge and support may help the next person as much as it has helped him.
“If I’m not giving, then I’m not receiving my blessings. My blessings are not for me to hold on to. My blessings are for me to pass off so that I can be blessed.”
For Suggs, being a mentor has also been a very humbling, spiritual, and fulfilling experience.
“It’s the greatest opportunity ever — when you come from where we come from — being able to breathe love, light, and hope into the community, into these youth, into a population of people that everybody else had written off,” he said. “Our youth aren’t looked at as being as valuable as other youths in these other neighborhoods. So for me, it’s just amazing. I just want to become a resource to my community.”
Their motto, “the endurance of the village sits on the shoulders of those who serve,” means they are all servants, but everybody’s a different kind, King explained. It is their duty to serve.
“Your efforts and your work speak louder than the volume of your mouth. Your work must speak volumes just as much as your voice. If my work doesn’t speak loud, then it is not going to do me any good to sit on the corner and shout,” he said.
Their ultimate goal is to be able to give their mentees tools to navigate the streets, and outlets to voice their opinions and their feelings as a means to express themselves. The Council of Elders Metro Sacramento wants to give their mentees different ways to process what’s going on around them, offer as many resources as possible, and hope that they accept them.
Suggs says that sometimes when mentoring an individual, he has to take on the role of supporting the entire family. He said he wants to make sure that home life does not conflict with the messages the mentees are getting from their elders. This connects back to the four pillars and how they all play a role in each other’s “Passing Of The Torch.”
“You have to be consistent, reliable, and dependable because apparently, some people in their life haven’t been, and that’s where they lose faith, trust, and hope,” Suggs continued. “They stop dreaming. We try to rebuild those dreams. It’s alright to want to be more than what you come from.”
Dealing with young people isn’t always easy, especially in this ever-changing, evolving world, but that does not stop the council from trying to spread their message, King said.
“We’re not to be judgmental of each other, but to be able to support each other and provide for each other. Provide a sacred space and place so that we can come and talk about issues and not be divided. We may disagree on something but it can’t divide us. We still stay together as one,” King said.
“We as the elders must stop and listen to what the young people are talking about also, because the same way as they can learn from us, we can learn for them,” he added. Their voice matters too.”
The success of the council is not attributed to a single program, individual, or even the members of the council itself, Hewitt said.
“Our power stems from collective activism and our ability to work together,” Hewitt said. “It is not about individual accolades or transformation. It is about how we put those things together and impact a community. While we may not all be in the same organization, we all share the same outcomes of a healthier, more prosperous community for African Americans/Black people here in Sacramento.”
For more information regarding the Council of Elders Metro Sacramento and how to get involved, please contact Greg King at (916) 470-2077 or firstname.lastname@example.org.