Mentoring memoir provides joy for the spirit

“Eddie and Me” by Saul Cooperman. Intermedia Publishing Group. 256 pages. $15.95.

“Eddie and Me” is an “odd couple” story about the special relationship between an eight-year-old black boy from Newark’s inner city and a white sixty-year-old educator who had grown up in middle-class suburbs. This fourteen year relationship begins with a mentorship arrangement and becomes a powerful and meaningful friendship. Like all caring relationships, it has ups and downs, moments of joy and moments of frustration and despair. Because Saul Cooperman kept a journal of his meetings with Eddie, he had a rich source to draw upon for this book. 

Saul Cooperman’s first task was building trust. In Eddie’s world, trust is not a well-known commodity, and, of course, Mr. Cooperman is an outsider. However, over time, that trust is established and other pieces of the relationship grow from it. It is outside of Eddie’s understanding, until now, for a white person to have anything but hate for a black person.

The deeply ingrained values and assumptions of Eddie’s world are so defeatist and narrow that adjusting them is truly an inch by inch pursuit over many years. The most significant case in point is the value of education. Eddie doesn’t get it. His peers don’t value it. Older kids and adults are scrambling along without finishing high school. Over and over again, Saul Cooperman probes this mind-set. Eddie either has no expectations beyond menial employments or street life – or he has unrealistic goals like becoming a professional basketball player.

In a world in which life is cheap and death is a very real and close-at-hand matter, anything that involves delayed gratification – like developing skills for significant, sustainable employment – is just not taken seriously. The mentor has to learn to see things through Eddie’s eyes in order to find strategies for even the most gradual adjustment in Eddie’s outlook.

When Mr. Cooperman and Eddie visit a place – perhaps a Macdonald’s – where an apparently successful black man is at hand, Mr. Cooperman makes every effort to engage that person in a conversation with Eddie. These men are potential role models, and it is valuable for Eddie to meet them and to learn about the role of education in their lives. While this gambit can persuade Eddie for the moment, it doesn’t go far enough. It doesn’t touch him where he lives. Years go by with only minor adjustments in Eddie’s outlook and behavior.

To read this article in its entirety, as it appears in the November 11-17, 2010 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the November 12-18 issue of 3 other Florida Weekly editions, click here: Florida Weekly – Saul Cooperman pdf

Note: Saul Cooperman spends part of each year in Bonita Springs.

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