January is National Mentoring Month. In honor of the occasion, our Director of Youth Initiatives, Wendolyn Stevens, reflects on her experience mentoring youth.
Growing up in a traditional strict household, mainly because of the church, I didn’t have many opportunities to have someone I could talk to and get an outlook or perspective about a situation that didn’t include Jesus, going to Hell, or simply just doing something because it looked like it was the right thing to do. I often found myself figuring things out on my own or in secret, which resulted in many errors. Some slipups figured themselves out, while others had consequences that lasted longer than expected. Through all of these experiences, I wished I had someone I could talk to who had a genuine interest in my experiences, the outcomes and how all that would mold me into a person. I needed someone unbiased toward religion or their own personal gain. Someone real. It took me leaving my home in the Mississippi Delta to start forming relationships with people to start realizing I needed a person. I needed a mentor.
After many years of lacking a mentor, I started to work in a space that required me to be a mentor to many students from many backgrounds, socioeconomic statuses and races. I had to learn as much as possible about my students’ backgrounds and show them acceptance, their families, and lifestyles. I used my experience of not having a mentor to help guide hundreds of college-aged students through academics, personal lives, relationships, career choices and life itself. Being a good mentor requires you to be a good communicator, listener and show a strong sense of empathy while providing constructive criticism. A good mentor shows genuine conviction that you want your mentee to succeed in all areas of life by setting high, attainable standards and providing support when needed. Being a good mentor requires you to show solidarity and be eager to allow your mentee to make decisions independently, with your advice as a guide and not answering their problem or situation.
In my role now, specifically working with Black women and girls, I have learned some of the key traits of a good mentor are easily translated into this position. Still, more emphasis is placed on connecting with their backgrounds. I grew up very protected, sheltered and naive. Many of the Black young women I now work with have seen things at their age I’d not even imagined at my age, but we all share the same foundation. Mentoring rooted in shared experiences makes the relationships and work much more impactful. There is no formula to being a great mentor; through communication, listening, empathy, conviction, solidarity and eagerness to assist when needed, though, you are guaranteed a pronounced impression on your mentee’s life. All of the energy you invest will result in unlimited outcomes, and you’ll happily see changes and growth right before your eyes.