We all have a choice in life to define our legacy and assess our true divine calling. As we approach the time of year of reflection on the tremendous contributions made to our society by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, I am reminded of his simple request wanting to be remembered as someone who simply tried to love. Dr. King’s spirit moves through me, daily, as I have made a conscious decision, moving by faith, that I want my legacy to be defined by the love for my community in my role as the Executive Director of Mentoring USA.
Mentoring USA, an affiliate of HELP USA, was founded in 1995 by New York State former first lady Matilda Raffa Cuomo. As a structured site-based mentoring organization, we provide comprehensive mentoring services and activities for youth, ages 7-21, through partnerships with schools, corporations, faith-based institutions, foster care agencies, community centers, and housing facilities nationwide. Once mentors are screened and trained, they play a vital role in teaching essential life skills such as: financial and media literacy; cultural awareness and respect; anti-bullying; self-esteem improvement; and living healthy lifestyles to the mentees in our program for a minimum of four hours per month. Essentially, our mentors are ‘positive opportunity brokers’ who serve selflessly to provide access to information, education, and opportunity to our mentees, and in some cases, the mentee’s family.
In the role as a mentoring executive, I am required to wear multiple hats in order to fulfill the goal of inspiring individuals—youth and adults, corporations, community partners, etc. to become agents of change. Some days I feel like I am a faith coach developing spiritual athletes and teaching youth and adults to: press on when life throws a curve ball, lift up in prayer challenging circumstances, and hurdle the temptation to engage in activities that will hurt their families and communities. Other days, I feel like a banker, investing in our communities and youth by using asset-driven language that deposits hope without withdrawing faith. My thought is that things can improve if we exercise an all 'hands on deck' approach in our respective communities.
I view mentoring as my ministry, as I recognize that much community healing is required to provide opportunities where children in under served communities can be inspired to learn and compete academically across the global landscape.
While our corporate partners have provided our organization with wonderful opportunities to expand and serve new communities throughout the country, I have purposefully focused on building the capacity of Black men and the faith community to address the shortage of adult male engagement in mentoring. Through support from the Open Society Foundation Campaign for Black Male Achievement, Mentoring USA was able to launch our MEN-TOUR: Recruit. Reclaim.Restore. effort to reclaim men and fathers who have already served as mentors in some capacity. The goal is to utilize and build their capacity to recruit more male mentors via the faith community, demonstrating how communities and schools will undergo a gradual restoration to safety and academic success for young Black men.
Our children are certainly ‘at risk’ when we consider the return we are getting on ignoring their cries for help. As a consummate optimist, with an intentionality to use language that inspires others, I tend to look at our next generation of local and global leaders as ‘champions on the cusp' poised for greatness, when we learn to focus on what we have versus what we don’t have. I know this, first hand, having been raised by a single mom after losing my father to health related issues at the tender age of five. My mother knew then that mentoring starts in the home.
Moving in the spirit of collaboration, to mentor youth, engage men, and share resources, is the true testament to community transformation. When the ‘village’ is in action, lives will be changed. I am of the mind set that less is more; sometimes, it is necessary to be ego-less when aligning resources in order to be purposeful.
Happy New Year, Happy National Mentoring Month and God bless!
Stephen Powell is the Executive Director at Mentoring USA based in New York, NY