It was during the 1969-1970 school year that Mike Lynch, formerly of Arkadelphia (AHS/65)—and the brother of our own Al “Fredde” Lynch—realized he had a problem. As reported recently by Patrick Beach (pbeach.com), Mike was teaching high school history and government in the small Northeast Texas town of Clarksville—years after the Brown v. Board of Education decision and the passage of the voting rights and civil rights bills a decade later—and his students were asking him questions he couldn’t answer.
Even though the schools were integrated, students would ask politely, “Why were minorities in Clarksville sometimes stopped and questioned by police for no apparent reason? Does the law mean what the law says? If so why am I treated differently under the Law? ”
“That got him to thinking,”Beach continued. “Maybe if he went to law school he could better answer their questions. Maybe do a little good.”
And so he did.
“I grew up in Arkadelphia where I was taught how to deal with other people,”Lynch said last week. “But I was by no means any kind of outspoken civil-rights advocate as I was growing up. Arkadelphia was the way I was taught to have an appreciation for people generally and to respect people regardless of their station in life, their race or anything else.”
After a year at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia , Mike entered Amherst College —“which was very liberal”— and finished school there. Now 65, Mike can look back on a successful career as a criminal defense lawyer, work in the Texas Attorney General’s office, head of the Travis County District Attorney’s public integrity and white-collar crime unit, and since his election in 1992, serving as judge presiding over the 167th District Court of Travis County. Lynch has also played a leading role in the county’s pretrial diversion program, which helps nonviolent offenders avoid a conviction if they adhere to the rules of the program.
Recalling that Mike had played a pivotal role in such mentoring projects, I emphasized our need for such programs locally. Specifically, I told him that several disturbing issues have emerged from the very timely Laymen’s Ministry of Greater Pleasant Hill Baptist Church’s conference in February on the crises that are facing African-American families in Clark County.
Asked about the mentoring programs at Pleasant Hill, for example, Herman Thomas, the Laymen’s Ministries president, said, “We are trying to pair our children with caring adults in the church. These adults will do things with them, take them to ball games, movies, shopping, fishing, etc. We have a core group of youth counselors that meets with them each Wednesday night. One of the things that’s interesting about the mentoring program in our church is that it was initiated by the young people.”
“So far as our worries about parenting are concerned, “ he said, it’s a global problem that’s having an impact on what is going on in Arkadelphia. Nationally, for example, 60 percent of grandparents are raising grandchildren. Of that number, 16.3 percent are living below the poverty level. So about one out of every 12 kids is living in a household headed by a grandparent. Not only that, but we have other children who are not living with their parents or grandparents, uncles, aunts or other relatives.
“So when the parent isn’t there—especially the father—that’s a cause for alarm. But I am never going to be the one to say that a female cannot raise a family because there are too many times where there have been many successful people, especially African-Americans, who have been raised in families that were headed by Moms.”
Putting the crisis into perspective, Thomas said, “Seventy-two percent of the black children who have been born to unmarried black mothers, are raised in households where the fathers are not even present.”
What about establishing a local mentoring program in which our public-school system and the Arkadelphia city board would work with volunteers from the community?
“I like it!”said Lynch, “I think anything that gets the people plugged into getting into a relationship with at-risk kids is a victory. Maybe you won’t succeed in every case but everyone you save from that downward spiral we just talked about, that‘s a success! I do agree, however, that the schools should be involved in some way so there is some linkage between the community and the school, which is sort of the common ground and one of the important players. That’s one of the determining factors of success that I define as being a productive member of society. That high school degree and staying in school are the biggest predictors of their ability to stay out of the criminal justice system.
There are some mentoring groups such as the “Fathers and Mentors.”program included in Watch D.O.G.S. (Dads of Great Students). Among other good mentoring programs are www.seedlingfoundation.net, and www.cisaustin.org.
Now retired, what’s ahead for Mike? He plans to be busy with community groups and charities, and to work on his tennis, golf, bird hunting and fly fishing.