Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Each one, teach one: A speed dating exercise in mentorship

"Each one, teach one." - An African proverb

The African proverb above has a strong significance in my life. It's significance is two-fold; historical and practical. According to Wikipedia, the short yet powerful phrase, "originated in the United States during slavery, when Africans were denied education, including learning to read. Many if not most enslaved people were kept in a state of ignorance about anything beyond their immediate circumstances which were under control of owners, the law makers and authorities. When an enslaved person learned or was taught to read, it became his duty to teach someone else, spawning the phrase "Each one teach one."

From a practical stand point I've been impacted by those who have embraced this proverb. Since I was a kid, individuals have helped to educate and influence me by putting this proverb into action. At the early age of five I was learning new skills, being encouraged, and mentored to by women leaders (who probably wouldn't have seen themselves in this light) at the Waterbury Girls Club (home of the first girls club in 1864, today the organization is known as Girls Inc). And as an adult I continue to live out this proverb through networking and by mentoring others .

Mentoring can be a game changer for an individual. It has the power:

  • To inspire
  • Help both parties learn from each other and gain perspective
  • Develop and enhance communication skills
  • Allow individuals to network and build relationships that will help to advance one's career
A couple of weeks ago I was reminded of the power of mentoring and the African proverb when I joined Hartford Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs (HYPE) and the University of Hartford's Women’s Advancement Initiative for a mentoring opportunity that took the form of a speed dating exercise. I was one of about 20 HYPE members who shared a bit about myself, my career, and how I forged it.

Our group represented a range of careers and age groups, from recent college graduates to individuals who are more than 15 years into their professions. Despite our career differences we hit on universal themes like:
  • Your professional life will not be a linear path
  • Find a career you can be passionate about and that will drive you
  • You don't have to know what you want to be when you grow up
  • It's never to early to start networking
  • The importance of creating your own definition of success instead of having it defined by others
While I think the young women from the University of Hartford's Women's Advancement Initiative learned from us, I was more impressed by them and interested in hearing their stories and goals for the future. They were an impressive group with different goals as well as diversity of thought. Through our speed dates I personally talked to four of the students there; two of the young women shared their goals of owning their own businesses to provide clinical care and support mental health needs at the community level, one is a communications student with an interest in film and storytelling, the fourth is majoring in psychology with minor in communications. The resources and support these women are getting will help them reach their future goals.

When I get dismayed by the 24-7 news cycle and think about the challenges we face as a society I remind myself of the African proverb, "Each one, teach one," and I look for opportunities to give back or pay it forward. I know it matters on the micro and macro level. 

A big thank you to Amy Jaffe-Barzach, executive director of The Women’s Advancement Initiative and Shannon Mumley, the program's manager for recognizing the need for this program. Programs like this will help to support and foster the talent pipeline to the next generation of women leaders. I also have to shout out Kim Bishop, the executive director of HYPE for putting this event on my radar.

Remember, no matter who you are, we all have gifts to to share that can inform, inspire, and be the catalyst for something bigger and better in life. So when you have the chance to follow the African proverb, "Each one, teach one," take it.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

It’s more than a month, it’s an American legacy

“I don't want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.”  ~Morgan Freeman

Today we kick off Black History Month. During the month of February our nation acknowledges the contributions by black Americans. While I think it’s important to recognize, as a person of color I have mixed emotions about the value our society gets from this national acknowledgement. The high-level view during the month makes me feel like it’s a PC way our society and culture checks the box for addressing conversations and issues relevant to black Americans.  

We pay tribute to a few civil rights icons, their contributions, and remember why their actions are still relevant and matter today. However, it’s just scratching at the service. It doesn’t get to the “pink elephant” in the room, racism, its 400-year plus legacy, or the detrimental effects that still weigh heavy on our public and private institutions and the lives of all Americans.

Having difficult conversations to advance our nation on topics of race, institutionalized racism and the affects in communities of color still eludes us. For me, Morgan Freeman’s quote reinforces why this matters. The sentiment behind his words still rings true today. Black history is American history. We say it, but do our leaders at the community, state, and national level believe it? I’m not always sure they do.

I look at our current president and wonder if he really believes in his administration’s Black History Month Proclamation from 2017. I question his authenticity after multiple news and media organizations recently reported he used racist language to disparage and undermine the contributions of immigrants that would potentially come from Africa and South America compared to white immigrants who would come from countries like Norway. It was also disturbing to see U.S. senators like Republican Senator David Perdue of Georgia, Republican Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and the Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen couldn’t recall if the president used racist language.

Our nation remains divided. When it comes to conversations of race and racism, it appears we lack the drive to sit down, actively listen, and talk to each other. Instead we wait for tragic events like police shootings or for the media to report about individuals in positions of power like Jerry Jones, Donald Sterling, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) or State Sen. Jake Knotts (R-S.C.) who used blatant racist language.

Our reactive approach puts us in our corners and pits us against each other. Like a boxing match, we wait for the bell and the right opportunity to strike and KO our opponents. It also allows racist trolls the chance to add negative rhetoric to the conversation and deepen divisions instead of having informed conversations.

Black History Month gives us an opportunity to deal with the skeletons from our past, but it doesn’t stop at the end of this month. Black history month recognition as well as the recognition to other communities of color uniquely tells the American story and weaves together our legacy.