Today’s blog post comes from Communities In Schools’ Grassroots Coordinator Dorian Wanzer.
For me, Black History Month is a time to recognize the black experience as an integral part of American history. More importantly, it’s for circulating success stories of determined and courageous African American leaders and visionaries who I admire year-round. Communities In Schools stresses the importance of students’ one-on-one relationship with caring adults as a basic for academic and life success.
After reviewing biographies of black history icons like Dr. Ben Carson, Dorothy Height, and Ossie Davis, a question came to mind: did these individuals have mentors? The answer is yes. Their accomplishments are the result of perseverance, opportunity and, of course, guidance from a caring adult.
Let’s take a look at Dr. Ben Carson, the youngest Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery in the history of Johns Hopkins Hospital, a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and world-renowned for separating craniopagus twins (twins conjoined at the cranium) in 1987. Dr. Carson’s early life was not ideal. He was raised by a single mother in inner-city Detroit. In school, he was constantly ridiculed by his classmates for being “dumb.” Subsequently, he developed a volatile temper, which furthered his academic struggles.
After demonstrating knowledge and interest in the class’s geology unit, his fifth-grade teacher invited him to the school’s laboratory after hours. In the lab, Carson discovered the world of bioscience. Because of the support of his teacher, Dr. Carson’s world was forever changed. He went on to excel in high school, attend Yale University and become the famed doctor we recognize today.
Moving on to Dr. Dorothy Height – the recipient of various awards including the Congressional Gold Medal and the John F. Kennedy Memorial Award – Height was the former Chair and President
Emerita of the National Council for Negro Women, and an active member of the National Board of the YWCA for 33 years. She was extremely gifted, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from New York University in just four years, but sought counsel from two extraordinary mentors: Mary McLeod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt. Height met Bethune through Roosevelt in 1937. After their introduction, Bethune invited Height to join the National Council of Negro Women. The following year, Eleanor Roosevelt invited Height to plan and prepare the prestigious World Youth Conference. These early opportunities presented by mentors laid the foundation for Dr. Height’s continued success. After ascending higher and higher in the public service field, Dr. Height became a mentor to other notable women who fought for social justice and equality.
Finally, there is the one and only Ossie Davis. Davis overcame the prejudice and typecasting that many black aspiring actors faced during the 1950s and became an extremely distinguished performer. Davis’ most influential mentor was Howard University’s Dr. Alain Locke, also known as the “Father of the Harlem Renaissance.” Davis shared with Locke his aspiration to become a playwright. Because he had never seen live acting, Locke believed his mentee would benefit from acting in a theatrical production to learn the ropes. Furthermore, he encouraged Davis to relocate to Harlem and join the Rose McClendon Players. The rest is history: Davis directed five films, starred in 13 stage plays, acted in more than two dozen movies and co-authored a book.
Obviously, the aforementioned individuals are nothing short of amazing, but mentorship goes a long way. If every young person had a mentor for advice and support, imagine how many more success stories there would be. The truth is, we all need mentors. One suggestion or invitation from someone you admire can ignite your passion and motivate you to follow it. Mentors open doors.