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The Importance of Mentoring

October 22, 2012

The book cover

Today, I present to you all the first half of my intro essay to my upcoming book with my mentee Different Families, Still Brothers. Some of this essay contains elements from an earlier essay I wrote. Get more information about the book here. It will be out next week! To go along with the release of the book, I will be dropping an interview about the book with my mentee and I. It was done by a upcoming journalist David Whitely. Feel free to share this!

Being a mentor for the first time can be hard. For most people, their first mentee is their younger sibling. Mentoring your younger sibling can be rewarding and/or discouraging. Most first time mentors don’t know where to start with their mentee. Sometimes the outside factors of a mentor-mentee relationship can make the relationship null and void. This can be frustrating to the point where the mentor can be turned off to helping any other young person.

I know how that feels. I was almost at that point. My brother, who was my first mentee, and I were two peas in a pod. We hung out and played together outside. We played video games together. We played card games together. Since our parents weren’t invested in our lives, all we had was each other. I comforted him when my father fought my mom. I took him places to get his mind off the drama at home.

Most of my youth, I was with him. I led by example by doing well in school. I lectured him on how education was his way out of the life we lived. While he was in high school, he started to do horrible in it and disrespect my parents. I was in college at the time. My parents would repeatedly call me to have me talk to him. It got to the point where I said what I thought I would never say.

I told him, “I’m not going waste my breath with you if you’re not even going to try.” I was sick of talking to him about his disregard for himself and others. I was sick of telling him how he was heading towards the road of our father. He was sick of me lecturing him. I learned that you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. I proceeded to tell him, “There are other young people out there who aren’t going to waste my breath, my time.” I didn’t close the door fully on him though. I told him, “When you’re ready to be helped, when you’re ready to hear me speak, I will always be here for you.”

I was right about other young people being out there who weren’t going to waste my time. The time that this conversation with my brother occurred was when I was about to join a mentoring program called Saratoga Mentoring in Saratoga Springs, New York. This program’s mentees where middle school students from impoverished backgrounds. The program was a social one. The mentor-mentee pairs just spent time with each other on campus. I had two mentees in my three year run with the program.

Being in this program was the first time I was directly giving back to my people, poor people. I shared my life story with both mentees, but the first mentee wasn’t engaged in the program. Most of the time, he wasn’t showing up to campus. I could’ve been so upset that I would quit the program as well. But I didn’t. I asked for and was given another mentee. He was so engaged that I felt like a big brother to him.

But there was only so much you could do in a social program with a middle school student. The program is great for first time mentors. It got me into the world of mentoring. After I graduated college, I wanted to help even more than I did in that mentoring program. I remembered the mentoring program I was in as a high school student, iMentor.

First, I applied to get a job at iMentor and was stunned when I didn’t get hired after expressing how I related to the students and doing well on addressing a problem a mentor would encounter with a mentee. I wasn’t discouraged because I became a mentor in the program. I was amazed with how big iMentor got, which has it positives and negatives. One positive was that it had become more academic. One negative was how I seen a mentee can still fall in the cracks of society.

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