January is Mentorship Month, and today is Mission Monday for my blog. Therefore, I want to share some content on mentoring.
When I was in my twenties and thirties, I purposely sought out mentors who I believed could add value to my life. I wanted to learn from people who had proven experience as leaders and those who would be genuinely interested in pouring into my life for me to grow and to become a well-rounded individual. As an African-American woman who grew up in the city and within a majority Black community I had always desired to engage with a strong female mentor who could appreciate and embrace my rich cultural history, my experiences, my dreams, and my potential. It was important to me to find someone who was capable of helping me develop into a more confident woman without insensitively dismissing or stripping away all that I am. I felt a great need to engage and to be involved cross-culturally. The challenge, however, seemed greater than I anticipated. Now, many years later, I have come to understand that healthy and effectual cross-cultural mentoring demands that the mentor is able to accept the challenge of diversity by acknowledging holistically that mentees may be working from different cultural frameworks than their own.
Culture is complicated. All of us are a part of various cultural and subcultural groups, and we continue to be shaped by a diversity of influences. Culture comprises more than the broad categories of race, gender, and age. People are deeply informed at some level by both substantial and negligible factors such as socioeconomic status, body size and shape, language and idiom, educational levels, technological exposure and proficiency, and so many other demographic and environmental considerations. Culture is influenced by health and dysfunction within family systems, both success and crisis experiences, and evolving worldviews and community contexts. It demands that cultural diversity plays a significant part in what mentoring relationships require today. Mentors today must have the ability to work sensitively, authentically, and competently in diverse cultural situations and settings. It is essential for mentors to employ more than sufficient awareness, knowledge, and skills to engage people who represent different cultural values, traditions, customs, and norms in ways that are safe and respectful.
In my early twenties, I can recall being thrown into mentor-mentee situations that were not what I would call “good fits.” With these experiences, there were undoubtedly some learning opportunities, but I knew something was missing. I was looking for someone who would allow me to be the best me that I could be and to gain from me even as they were giving to me. I desired to learn from mistakes and to grow into the person God created me to be. My story is not uncommon among persons of color. What is missing when it comes to mentoring?
Being intentional in mentoring cross-culturally is for me looking at life and success through different cultural lenses… together! I desire to help both mentors and mentees to become more fully aware of cultural differences and to value the voice of others and their unique cultural expressions in leadership, entrepreneurship, or any other area of our society. One must mentor beyond what they know through their own lens and step into the shoes of another through authentic relationship and ask, “What do you see?” Culturally unaware and ineffective mentoring only perpetuates the increasing divide between people and communities who happen to be different. If mentors are willing to connect in more culturally sensitive ways, experiences with mentees could afford them new ways of understanding success and leadership. If those women in my own experience had been more open to who God made me be, really listened to my unique stories, learned from my background, and critiqued their own cultural lenses, maybe things would have been exponentially better for all of us.
As I researched the many definitions for mentoring, most suggested that mentoring is about a personal developmental relationship. It is customary in this sense for the more experienced and more knowledgeable person to journey with the less-experienced or less-knowledgeable person, depositing valuable insight over a period of time. I would like to submit, however, that in today’s society the reciprocal and mutual value that comes with true diversity is one missing ingredient. Mentoring must be a shared, two-way relationship, acknowledging the unique contexts of culture and the uniqueness of our respective experiences. This contemporary generation will benefit from mentoring that appreciatively engages their contexts without judgment and amplifies their unique voice to enlighten the mentor with their thoughts and perspectives. This creates space for them to blossom and to grow in their personal, professional, and spiritual lives.
It seems that this generation of young adults longs to have someone come alongside them who has a sincere desire to embrace them and to mentor based on who they are and can become. Just because a person is someone of great reputation or one who may “talk” a good diversity game does not necessarily mean they are equipped to serve in this role as mentor with one who is different. Prospective mentees are seeking people who have committed to join them on their journey and to teach practically and contextually for professional, personal, and spiritual growth. They want to roll up their sleeves and get involved, conceivably through serving with their mentor in service projects for the good of communities or creating philanthropic events to raise funds for organizations or persons in need. Having the ability to grow in every facet of an organization or a business from building volunteers to understanding and implementing a budget, to relationship building and effectively communicating… and doing it all… Together!
Over the last few years I have felt the desire to mentor others, especially those among marginalized young adult women. Some options seemed to be missing from what was available to me when I was growing up, and I decided to do what I could to fill the void. I think about my daughter and her college friends who express how they want someone who is going to pour into them according to what they want and need, and not necessarily what we think we must give them. So I walk alongside my daughter who now serves as the president of our magazine, READY. At such a young age, my daughter Dominiq is already a huge success. Whoever mentors her after me must acknowledge her vocational experiences as president of a successful magazine and not minimize her accomplishments at 21 years of age, nor her unlimited potential in the years to come. Dominiq is similarly empowering others she mentors by using her voice as well as giving other young ladies a voice in the magazine.
Our journeys are not the same, but the horizon is ready for us to walk forward together. The challenge may be great but does not compare to the reward. Engaging in cross-cultural mentoring relationships today is an endeavor that will pave the way for more opportunities for those who come behind us and who yet walk with us now.
This article was originally printed in the spring 2016 issue of READY Publication. To learn more about READY and to purchase the most recent issue go to www.READYPublication.com