From the South Bronx to Success: How Mentorship Changed the Game

Hello, beautiful people!

Six blog articles in, I’ve realized that, apart from my website profile, I haven’t introduced myself properly. Allow me to tell you a bit about who I am and what experiences have molded me before I share a little about my journey and future posts. I’m looking forward to interweaving my posts with personal anecdotes from my life. These anecdotes will demonstrate how I make sense of public policy, leadership development, organizational dynamics, occasionally pop culture, and life in general. After watching Chris Rock’s most recent Netflix special and reading an opinion article by Ms. Kelly Lawler, I was really tempted to write my first pop culture post! However, I’ll have to dig into that later. I’ll just say I disagree with her analysis lol.

First, let’s begin with a a retrospective reflection, as each of the sections that follow will be described in greater detail. I intend to explore the obstacles and achievements that have shaped my journey. My path has taken me a very long time to comprehend, heal from (still healing we all are in some ways am I right?) and assign positive meaning. So..I hope this resonates with everyone that does me the honor of reading a little bit about my story.

Have you ever felt trapped by your surroundings or circumstances, unable to escape? I felt this way for much of my formative years, my youth, until the age of 15 or 16, when I began to alter inside and accept my reality as my fate. Perhaps you too were the first in your family to attend college or grew up in a low-income household or both. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, I grew up in the Soundview Section of the South Bronx amidst violence, poverty, and the difficulties of a single-parent household. Before police or the “meat wagon” arrived on the scene, it was not unusual to come across deceased individuals laid out in the street or in stairwells or back alleys, or in front of buildings or corner stores. Fortunately… with luck, guidance, and resolve, I was able to find a different path and achieve some cool life goals.

Mentorship will be a theme I return to regularly in my blogs because I belie it to be so important to unlocking one’s ability and true potential. It is important in character and leadership development. As I’ve progressed from a challenging neighborhood to what some would deem academic and professional success, my experiences have given me the confidence to share my journey with a diverse group of individuals. I can code-switch with the best of them. My journey has been filled with challenges and possibilities, but mentorship’s impact has been a constant guiding factor. The proper individuals at the proper time. Can you relate?

As a child growing up in an unstable home, I was always aware of my need for more than what was in front of me. I was really lucky to have direction and mentorship that helped me find my way out of some difficult circumstances. My story is the story of countless other young men and women, illustrating how mentorship can mold a person’s career, support them through difficult times, and lead to personal and professional success. I miss my brilliant and fearless friends dearly, they too had all the gifts that I possessed.

Later in this post I share experiences from my life, growing up in the South Bronx to goin going on to become a college graduate while doing my best to be a good father….a young father who had a lot to learn himself. I share a bit about the challenges I had along the way, such as coping with survivor’s guilt and imposter syndrome in higher education, my professional settings, and balancing my academic, professional, and parental duties.

I hope that my story will encourage others to persevere in the face of adversity, to seek and provide mentorship , and to pay it forward by helping to unlock the potential in someone else. Whether you are a first-generation college student, a professional from a low-income background, or someone who has encountered similar life challenges, I believe that sharing our experiences and lessons learned will assist others in overcoming their own obstacles and achieving their goals.

Ok good people let’s take a closer look at the transformative power of mentorship and its role in molding lives through the use of personal narratives, observations, and reflections. We can celebrate our triumphs, learn from our difficulties, and encourage one another to build a better future tother.

The South Bronx… Not For The Faint of Heart

Imagine a young child growing up in a dangerous area, surrounded by people who appeared resigned to living out their lives inside a three-mile radius. Certainly not all, but many. This was my experience in the South Bronx. How could anyone hope to leave this situation without divine intervention or good extreme fortune? Unfortunately, many of the young people I grew up with possessed unrealized potential that was sufficient to alter their life paths. As I think on my adolescence, it is evident that all these young individuals needed to transform their lives was the right opportunity and mentorship. Yet obtaining genuine mentorship and opportunity in situations similar to the one in which I grew up at the time was uncommon. There were positive role models who planted seeds, such as Pauly and Uncle John, the neighborhood’s favorite food vendors. We also had refuges like PS 131 evening recreation facilities and the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club. 

The majority of the violence was caused by gang/crew feuds or drugs. Crack cocaine was the most prevalent street drug when I was growing up. Heroin use was on the decline in New York City, but it is on the rise again today. Drugs seem to be cyclical like fashion. Bypassing crackheads in stairwells on the way to school was normal. Individuals routinely passed out in front of your building was common. I look back on these memories and images now and see just how odd it would have been for many of the kids I ended up attending college with years later. Random memories like for those in the know, traveling the last train car was a badge of courage and a recipe for drama. It was understood heading to the back of the train was for individuals that could handle themselves or so we thought.

Managing Difficulties and Seeking Mentoring

As a child, I was on edge, angry and scared all the time and desperate for guidance- oftentimes in all the wrong places with the wrong people. I desired to fit in with my surroundings; I wanted to be accepted and respected, but I knew I desired more. I did not know a way out, and I was not absorbing the right type of information and insight at the time. I engaged in risky conduct, which resulted in a brief but unforgettable experience with the law and the criminal justice system. This was educational and informed my future steps. 17 years old at the time, and I also discovered that I had been accepted into the Educational Opportunity Program at UAlbany and that I would become a parent. Can you imagine the terror and uncertainty I endured at the time?

As fate would have it, though, these disappointments were in fact precursors to something better. After being expelled from my first high school (no hard feelings at all), I was transferred to another high school where I met a mentor and father-like figure who saved my life. After that educational experience, Mr. McCauley fought to save me from getting expelled from my second high school. I believe he decided to take me on as a mentee after I had gotten into problems and was absent from school frequently. When they threatened to call my mother, I responded indifferently, “Go ahead.” After meeting her (and observing the state in which she appeared), I was awarded a scholarship. I won’t go into detail about her backstory. [It should be noted that after many years and a great deal of hard work, she turned her life around and has been sober for many years. She ought to be proud of herself, as am I. She endured numerous arduous life events.] Mr. McCauley’s introduction into my life was the pivotal moment that let me recognize the significance of having someone to lead and support me. Have you ever encountered a closed door followed by the opening of a better one?

The Magic of Mentoring – Links That Transform Lives

Throughout my transition into the foreign world of college, I met a number of mentors who would each have a great impact on my life. Others, like Derrick Westbrook, Dr. Carr, Dr. Betty Shadrick, Mr. Hank Shuford, Mr. Abdul Jarvis, Dr. Charles Tarlton, Ms. Amy Keefe, and Mr. Brian Coffin, entered my life at just the right moment. These individuals spotted my potential, offered direction, and showed me that I could thrive despite my background. They provided great lessons and guided me through higher education.

Each of these mentors played a unique role in my life, providing me with the insights and counsel I required at the time. For instance, Derrick Westbrook, a person who represented an older brother, was an intellectual powerhouse who forced me to think critically. He also introduced me to the most effective martial art, Jiu Jitsu well before it current popular appeal lol. Not up for debate best martial art period. Associate Vice President Dr. Carr exemplified black excellence, achievement, discipline, and the strength of perseverance. Professor Charles Tarlton instilled in me a passion for politics and public policy, inspired me to pursue my academic goals, and demonstrated that I was capable of attaining them. Dr. Betty Shadrick, a high-ranking administrator, exemplified other-mothering for a large number of students of color on campus. Mr. Abdul Jarvis was a god-sent EOP counselor who assisted me in comprehending and resolving some of my emotional difficulties and previous traumas. Ms. Amy Keefe and Mr. Brian Coffin guided me through my first environment, which was primarily white, complex, and fast-paced. The advice they gave me on how to behave in these types of circumstances was foundational to my code-switching. I enjoyed working with them in the New York State legislature. I am forever grateful to them.

I suffered from imposter syndrome throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies. According to research published in the International Journal of Behavioral Science, around 70% of people experience imposter syndrome at some point in their lives. Overcoming imposter syndrome entails admitting one’s successes and building self-confidence. Mentors can be crucial to this process since they can provide confidence, affirmation, and guidance. Have you ever felt like a fraud in your field? If so, how did you overcome this feeling?

Parenting as a Youngster – Accepting the Difficulty

In my mid-twenties, I became a full-time custodial parent while simultaneously navigating my own personal development. Raising a child while still feeling like a child is a unique and challenging experience. One of the most difficult and gratifying experiences of my youth, yet I was legitimately terrified, ill-equipped, clueless, and did not know what the F I was doing much of the time. My moral compass was frequently influenced by my childhood experiences and my unsuccessful attempts to do the exact opposite of certain things. Being a young father taught me a great deal and made me recognize the need of having mentors and a support network. My mentors helped me reconcile my parental responsibilities with my academic and professional pursuits, ensuring that I could offer my child and my goals my best effort. Indeed, it takes a village.

Parenting is frequently cited as one of the most gratifying and difficult endeavors a person can do. According to a study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, a parent’s mental health and well-being can be significantly enhanced by having a solid support system. By providing direction, advice, and emotional support, mentors can assist parents in overcoming the problems of parenting. How has fatherhood impacted your personal journey, and have you sought guidance from mentors?

Reflections on the Effectiveness of Mentoring

Looking back on my journey, it is apparent that mentorship played a key part in assisting me to escape the restrictions of my South Bronx upbringing. It gave me with the direction, assistance, and opportunities I required for success. Mentors helped me figure out how to deal with the difficulties of college, overcome the idea that I wasn’t good enough, and balance my parental obligations. Their impact transformed me into the individual I am today.

Consider the following questions as you reflect on your life:

  1. What influence have mentors and role models had on your journey to success?
  2. What can you do to pay it forward and serve as a mentor to someone who may be navigating life’s challenges?

By sharing my story over time, I hope to motivate people from similar backgrounds to continue and seek mentorship and to remind those who have already found success to give back by becoming mentors themselves. Mentorship can have a profound effect on a person’s life, particularly if they come from a difficult background. Let us assist one another in overcoming hurdles and creating a brighter future for ourselves and those who follow in our footsteps. Mentorship has the capacity to stop the cycle of poverty, violence, and hopelessness, thereby transforming lives.

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