Mentoring as Community Building

Mentorship is essential in a world where social capital influences success towards one’s goals just as much as one’s knowledge and skills. It provides several benefits such as:

·      Transfer of specific “insider” knowledge about a particular field or subject

·      Opportunities to share ideas and get feedback

·      Information about the “politics” of how people operate

·      Access to professional, academic, and personal networks and organizations

·      Professional and personal support that is non-competitive that may focus on emotions, skills, etc.

These benefits can increase the likelihood of one crafting and achieving realistic goals. Mentorship can help one maintain her psychological equanimity in a hostile world that is thing-oriented, not person-centered. Mentorship is even more important for people who are often marginalized due to their racial, gender, and sexual orientation identities. People who embody intersecting traditionally marginalized identities often face bigger barriers in professional, academic, and personal settings than who do not. When done right, mentoring not only helps individuals but it also allows for more people to have access to opportunities and experiences that they would not have had otherwise. These mentored people then often become mentors for others and thus increase the circle. Mentorship is community building at the interpersonal level, one relationship at a time.

It can be hard to find mentors who not only have professional or subject based expertise but who also can intimately understand and affirm one’s personal experiences. I’ve been blessed to have several mentors throughout my life. I learned so much from them and each of them, in their own unique way, contributed valuable information and experiences that helped me become the person I am today. It was my white female physician that gave me my first book about Black heroes and suggested to my mother that I go to a fine arts magnet school. It was a white gay male professor who introduced me to James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, and The Autobiography of Malcolm X. It was another white gay male professor who introduced me to research and encouraged my intellectual curiosity related to religion, spirituality, and Black SGL men. A Black female lesbian is the person who helped me process my emotions due to feelings of isolation in academia. Currently, I have a Black SGL male mentor who is helping me navigate the racial and nepotistic politics of government research funding.

It is because of these mentors that I understand the importance of mentoring others. Given that I am a Black SGL man who often finds himself the only (or one of few) Black or SGL persons in many academic and professional settings, I am more acutely aware of the plight of racial and sexual minorities and focus my mentorship efforts there. It is important to me that I am in front of classrooms and organizations everyday as a representation of excellence. I hope to exemplify and inspire what Shawn “Jay Z” Carter once rapped, “power to the people, when you see me, see you.” Mentorship is not just about helping people achieve goals but about helping people empower themselves, become more human. We all have the ability to empower others. We all have skills we can pass on to help others avoid our mistakes and reach their goals faster. We should not expect mentees to become us but hold them accountable for using their personal experiences along with the things we have taught them to better the world and move it toward social justice. Every time we mentor someone, we are building a more just community.