Christina Melton Crain
Dallas Bar Association
Impacting At-Risk Children
by Christina Melton Crain and Charles Pierson
“Mentoring the Next Generation” is the 2009 Dallas Bar Association theme, and the premier mentoring program being brought to the Dallas Bar Association this year is Amachi Texas.
Amachi Texas is a mentoring program which uses faith-based and secular partners to match children of offenders with adult role models to break the intergenerational cycle of incarceration.
“Amachi” is a word of Nigerian dialect that means “Who knows but what God has brought us through this child.” The program focuses on children ages 6 to 14 who have an incarcerated parent who are recommended by churches, schools, caregivers and parents in prison.
The Amachi effort began seven years ago in Philadelphia, under the leadership of former Mayor Rev. Dr. W. Wilson Goode Sr., the child of an offender himself.
The program has since spread to various communities throughout the United States. In March 2006, Gov. Rick Perry announced a $3.78 million grant to launch Amachi Texas, a public-private effort between the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the Office of the Texas Governor, Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Texas, and the One Star Foundation, a nonprofit organization created by the governor in 2004 to coordinate faith-based initiatives and promote volunteerism.
Amachi Texas became the first Amachi program to go statewide and has served as a model for other states to replicate. The initial goal was to mentor 1,300 children who have incarcerated parents, building an infrastructure across Texas to reach thousands more. To date, more than 5,000 Texas children have been paired with a caring adult. And, now, the Dallas Bar Association will become the first bar association in the state to join in this worthwhile effort.
Recent findings by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics indicate that children of offenders have a 70 percent greater likelihood of becoming involved in the criminal justice system. There are an estimated 2.4 million children affected by the nearly 1.5 million parents currently incarcerated in prisons and jails.
More than 7 million children (one in every 10) have a parent under some form of criminal justice supervision, whether currently incarcerated, on probation, on parole or a past history of incarceration.
In the Dallas-Fort Worth area alone, the Bureau of Justice reports there are about 70,000 children that have an incarcerated parent. Programs such as Amachi Texas address these children’s specific needs and make a difference in the potentially negative direction of their lives. It is particularly critical for potential male “big brothers” to step forward as nearly half of all boys whose parents are doing time will themselves be behind bars, as juveniles or adults.
BBBS of North Texas will function as the program director and service delivery provider for the DBA/Amachi Texas initiative. They will enroll, screen, and train mentors; offer referral and counseling to families of children; provide on-going support for mentor/child relationships; as well as evaluate and report on program activities.
The participation in Amachi Texas, with Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Texas, is a logical connection for the Dallas Bar Association. It facilitates further avenues for offenders and offender families to better access community resources, which in this case involves mentoring services for children of incarcerated parents and direct linkage to specific services within the community, while giving the Dallas Bar community the ability to give back.
And, we are so fortunate to have Dallas Bar Association veterans Harriet Miers and Rob Roby serving as our DBA/Amachi Texas co-chairs this year. They understand the important role mentors can play in the lives of these children and have graciously taken on the task to assist in this effort. We thank them in advance for their commitment and dedication to this program.
By serving one of the most at-risk populations in our society, programs such as Amachi Texas will make great strides toward breaking the cycle of intergenerational incarceration and provide a better future for all Texans.
To participate in DBA/Amachi Texas program, contact Kristy Brownlow at 972.573.2380 or Kbrownlow@bbbstx.org. Please mention DBA when signing up! You can truly make a difference in the life of a child, ultimately helping your community in the process. Sign up today!
In addition to serving as the 2009 president of the Dallas Bar Association, Christina Melton Crain is the immediate former chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice and specializes in children/juvenile representation, ad litem representation and mediation. Charles Pierson is the CEO and president of Big Brothers Big Sisters of North Texas.