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Friday, July 15, 2011

Mentoring Matters: A Call to Action for Mentors

Yesterday I went to Target in one of the more "urban" areas of the district and I found myself in line with a young sista who had a GUT full of human. I immediately noticed that she was younger than me and super pregnant. Seriously, she looked like she could have given birth right in the 10 items or less lane. It also didn't take me long to realize that the two little ones pulling at her shirt were also her children. I like to think of myself as someone who can talk to anyone. I am genuinely interested in hearing about the circumstances of other people. Because of this, I can spark up a convo with anyone...and *sparking* is what I did. I broke the ice by telling her how gorgeous her daughter was and once she thanked me, I seized the opportunity to pick her brain. 

After asking a few questions, I learned that Diamond (this may or may not be her real name) has been pregnant for the majority of the past four years as her children are 3 and 2. She told me about the situation of the father of her children and how she ended up raising them alone. Now I have to stop right here and tell you that I have a problem: In convos, I have a difficult time following people who take an extended time to answer my questions. I often try to help them finish their sentences in my efforts to move the convo along and help the speaker get to the point. I do this even if they are a complete stranger. 

Now back to Diamond. My heart went out to her. I used my expertise to persuade her to exit the line with me and walk around the store to find a few things for her baby shower. I wanted to help her. I wanted to change her. I wanted to take her back in time and reverse all of her bad decisions. She started telling me about her first pregnancy and it was at that point that I felt my mind wander. I looked up for one quick second, the way people do when they are trying to retrieve a thought, and Diamond's voice only owned half of my attention. I wondered: WHY didn't someone mentor her before she was stuck with another gut full of human to raise on her own?! What happened to her?  Where is her father? Where is her mother? Why did she continue to have unprotected sex with someone who cannot stay out of jail? What will happen to her children if they grow up in a single parent home? To me, Diamond was but a child herself and it was obvious that she was forced to grow up at an early age. 

She told me how education was never a big deal in her household and her father was never really around *light bulb!* I wanted to tell Diamond so many things but I found myself overwhelmed on an emotional rollercoaster. I felt so many things I did not know where to start. Should I tell her it would be worth it to go back and finish high school? Should I tell her to cut ties with the father of her children because he would only drag her down? Should I tell her that she owes it to her daughter to be a strong mother and a strong woman? Cot darn it I hate being confused! I said a quick prayer and asked God to give me to knowledge and the wisdom to say something to her that would help her change her mindset. In short, I told her it was time for her to make a difference. I told her to look to her children for motivation to do what she knows she should have done a long time ago. I told her about my past and how I grew up seeing some of the same things she saw but I managed to use that stuff as motivation. I told her not to allow her environment to have a negative influence on who she becomes. I told her a few other things and I meant every word of it. By the end of our conversation, I realized I had spent an hour in Target when all I went in for was laundry detergent and dryer sheets. Sometimes you're put in a certain place to learn something and other times you are put in a place so that you can teach. When I was standing in line next to Diamond, I felt an overwhelming pressure to speak to her and I gave in to that pressure. I could have just sat there and stared at her. I could have merely judged her without finding out her story. I could have just put on my headphones and sunglasses and pretended like no one else existed but me. I'm glad I didn't do any of those things. I'm glad I went to Target.

Did you forget people like Diamond exist? Have you spent so much time around black women who have their sh*t together that you forgot there are black women like Diamond? It breaks my heart to admit they do. Every time I see a woman like Diamond I say a prayer for her in hopes that she will find herself and find a way to live out her purpose in life. Don't forget people like the father of Diamond's children also exists. When parents and teachers fall short, it is up to us to find a way to inspire the youth. A wise man once said, "if you don't give back to the youth in your community, you may find yourself fighting them off to protect your belongings."Let that marinate. 

I wrote this in hopes that it would encourage some of you to forge mentoring relationships with the youth in your community. Don't say you don't know where to start when Google exists. I don't want to hear it. A community is only as strong as its struggling residents. If there aren't any opportunities in your community, CREATE THEM. I know we are all busy and I hear you making excuses but remember that we make time for what matters. Making time to give back is no different than making time for dinner.  Its time we stop claiming we want to make a difference just because it sounds good and start living up to it. Stop saying you want to give back without taking steps to actually do so. Its time you "reach back" into the community that helped make you who you are today. 

In case you're wondering, YES I did tell Diamond I have a blog and YES I did tell her she inspired me to write something about her and sistas like her. She was honored that she inspired me.

Peep the follow up to this post here. 

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