It was the spring of 1994; I had just returned to my home school district after a year of expulsion for a number of disciplinary reasons. A man by the name of Edward Joseph noticed me (and several others) and took us under his wing. He introduced us to post high school options, encouraged us to strongly consider college, and even taught us life skills. Mr. Joseph saw a void and endeavored to fill it through mentorship. This endeavor not only changed the trajectory for many of us but has enabled a few of us to repeat the pattern for other young people in our respective communities. The University defined the functions of a mentor this way, “A mentor may share with a mentee (or protege) information about his or her own career path, as well as provide guidance, motivation, emotional support, and role modeling.” Why is this important? Because many of our youth are misguided, uncertain about who they are and where they are headed, and some are just ignorant to the fact that life will exist beyond their teenage years.
Mentors are so important for our youth because they serve as a source of stimuli, or a voice of motivation and affirmation. In my nearly 20-year experience working with youth, one of the common themes (especially with his generation) seems to be a lack of motivation. A mentor has a golden opportunity here to speak life into the young person in a way that will not only challenge them but motivate them to see beyond their current circumstances and emotional state. Our youth are often “beaten up” verbally and emotionally, especially when they fail to meet the expectations of the adults in their life. A great mentor will get to the core of “what makes the mentee tick” and motivate them!
Another purpose of mentors; a place of confidentiality. Again, from my experience, many youths feel as if their voices have been muted. This feeling causes them to shrink into a proverbial corner, and forces them to internally conceal their true emotions, thoughts, etc. An effective mentor will use this moment to foster trust. I have discovered that in order to teach a young person, you have to be able to reach them. A mentor that intentionally strives to break the code of silence with a mentee will allow the mentee to become vulnerable. This will open the lines of communication and in turn will prove to build trust.
Finally, the mentor can prove to be a valuable bridge, connecting the mentee to their goals. The current mentorship program that I host at our local High School has been able to facilitate these types of connections. Some of these young men desire to graduate and become mechanics, barbers, so forth and so on. The look on the faces of the young men once it was revealed that we ae connecting them with professionals from the fields that they inquired about was gratifying in itself. As a mentor, the ability to build relationships as a bridge is paramount to the success of the mentee.
Why mentor? Because they are not the future, they are the NOW!!!