Monday, November 6, 2017

A Call to Mentorship

I have been thinking a lot about mentorship lately.

This isn’t new. My first foray into volunteerism (besides my stint at age eight helping my mother stuff envelopes and tagging after her door-to-door to support political candidates) was with Big Brothers Big Sisters when I was a college student. I have since served as a mentor, benefited from mentors, and set up programs for mentorship in any number of settings. Perhaps this was born of the extraordinary role so many unofficial mentors played in my life during my mother’s illness and after she died when I was 11 years old.

I believe that education and wealth disparity underpin many of the issues with which I’ve engaged in my career and personal life. And they underlie so much of the seemingly unending scope of struggles ripping at the fabric of society. I’m not trying to oversimplify; I do understand that there are layers of complexity. And that tells me that we must start somewhere foundational.

The Center for Promise has reported on “relationship poverty,” and the most effective mentorship—natural mentoring—is disproportionately within reach of higher-income youth according to The Mentoring Gap, a publication from Connected Learning Alliance. If we don’t address this, we add to the perpetuation of unequal opportunity. Plenty of the research and daily efforts from Public Health Management Corporation—where I worked during my last five years in Philadelphia—demonstrate the critical connection among levels of education, social capital, income and health. In fact, we understood that education and mentorship could fall within the broad canopy of public health so we incorporated programs and organizations engaged in these endeavors within our portfolio.

In research published this year, Pathways to Education argues for going beyond the traditional one-to-one, youth/adult mentorship to draw on a broader set of relationships and community resources. This echoes something discussed at a mentorship panel I organized and moderated several years ago at Bentley University. One of our speakers talked about building a personal board of directors—a set of mentors one accumulates, to whom one can reach out throughout the years for guidance in the areas in which they can best provide insight. 

What can we do to spread the riches of mentorship beyond the barriers set up by wealth disparity? How can we engage in mentorship in a systemic approach to fight relationship poverty and help break the cycle of inequality in education, social capital, income and health outcomes? What will that mean to replacing anger, fear and desperation with passion, confidence and hope?

Imagine what we could accomplish then.