Who are we mentoring?
Who are we mentoring?
Brandan Odums, writer, filmmaker and artist responsible for Exhibit Be and many murals around the city gave the commencement speech at Sci Academy. Nearly 98% of the graduating class were accepted into 4- year universities and have earned over $3M in scholarships collectively. During his speech he passed along knowledge and wisdom that would be helpful to students after graduating high school. He charged students with the social responsibility they had as graduates and in a historical context as literate and educated. “Education is a powerful tool,” he said and “What are you going to do to help us?”
This week I sat down with Leonard Galmon’s, graduate of Cohen College Prep and New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and sophomore at Yale University. I first met the Art major at a pop-up art show at Eiffel Society a couple of weeks ago. We decided to check out some of Bmike’s (Brandan Odums) murals throughout the city. We also had dinner with Khaled Gross, who works for The Network for Economic Development. During dinner Leonard, who is a great listener, very insightful and shy says, “As I am listening to you all talk, your lives seem so figured out- you know what you want and how to get it. My friends and I are struggling to declare majors and trying to understand what we want to be and do.” He mentioned when he was younger he bypassed opportunities to meet people. This made me think of the types of people and information Leonard’s peers at Yale must have access to, but more importantly, what struck me during conversation was how intentional mentoring must be for it to hold meaning. And then, I began to personalize Brandan’s question to the graduates of Sci Academy: What am I going to do to help us?
This got me to thinking about my responsibility to mentor young people and about our responsibility as people of color to create avenues and connections for young black and brown kids who, like me, are trying to figure it all out. To be clear, this charge belongs to everyone, myself included, and is meant to challenge not indict: Who are we mentoring? What opportunities are we making available, what knowledge and game are we passing down to young people and those coming behind us? There are youth who are here for the summer and those who still haven’t left.
As a young leader who leads an education advocacy start-up I have been blessed with people willing to give guidance, share their lessons learned and just simply holding a mirror up for me to see my own talent, passion and commitment. Building a sustainable community change movement means growing roots in the community with our elders and youth and while I’m never sure how my relationship will develop with the youth I come across, my goal is to connect and to be available. From Leonard’s perspective it seemed as though Khaled and I had it figured out, but to some extent we are all figuring it out and need thought partners, sounding boards and mentoring. Although I am not Leonard’s mentor per say I am ready to connect him with others, I am willing to teach and model “getting to know you” conversations, how to identify what you need and how to ask for it. I commit to helping young people learn how to discover the magic in their story and how to share it. But most of all will hold a mirror up to Leonard and others so they can see their own promise, talent and greatness.
This is how we help us. It is a start at least.
Lookout for an update/recap of Leonard’s freshman year at Yale and what he is up to soon on secondline)