By Desmond Murray and Charity Garcia
Leaving aside for the moment the root causes of achievement gaps, there is almost universal acceptance that disparities in American democracy still persist in the age of Obama. This ultimately tarnishes and devalues the uniquely American brand – the American Dream. Further, while the terminology of ‘achievement gaps’ is most often linked to objective, quantifiable measures in the educational outcomes among demographic groups defined primarily by gender, ethnicity and socioeconomics, it is broadly applicable to other social justice issues as well.
Mentoring, we believe, is an effective way whereby believers in a community of faith can get involved, personally and corporately, in bringing change to bridge societal divides and disparities. Spiritually, it links human souls into life-changing relationships. As Christians, we inherit a privileged history of perhaps the greatest example of mentoring in the timeless story of Jesus and his disciples. Think about the socioeconomic backgrounds and personalities of the disciples. Think about how Jesus mentored them from disparate individuals, and by ‘chain reaction,’ transformed them into what is now and has been for over two thousand years – the Christian Church. We really need not go very far within our faith tradition to realize the importance and impact of mentoring. Divinity incarnate mentoring humanity to find, realize and actualize our God-given spark.
So, in our own lives, we too, like the disciples, can continue on the work of ensuring that all men, women, boys and girls, of any color, from any country, are living out their highest ideals and realizing their God-given potentials. Mentoring is the best workforce development strategy around! Historically, it has been around since antiquity and has been defined in numerous ways in a substantial body of literature and research. It appears in Homer’s Odyssey, forms the core of the Socratic method, and has been part of many world religious traditions. It works in the classroom and the boardroom, in posh suites and inner-city streets. It allows us all to give of what we have and pass it on like the sun giving light to the earth or a candle giving light to a room. Whether we are a candle or a sun, we work in partnership with God by mentoring another to become all that God expects them to be.
Lent is the period of preparation that precedes the period of Easter celebration. It represents the time – forty days - that Jesus spent in the desert preparing for community work, his public ministry of healing and teaching. Mentoring is that time – preparation time. . .desert time. . .before celebration, before the blooming of flowers, before the flowing of rivers, before caterpillars become butterflies, before the advent of Spring, and before the satisfactions of success.
The truth is preparation for one’s life’s work, preparation in the passionate pursuit of excellence, or just preparation for life takes more than forty days and forty nights. For the sustained efforts often required to be ‘successful,’ a good mentor is critical. Whatever the field of work, whatever the stage of life, having a mentor helps negotiate the terrain, both its obstacles and opportunities.
Mentoring is not simply a quick ‘flyover.’ It requires developing close and caring relationships between those involved. It demands a consistent presence rather than a quick one-time fix. It requires an active citizenry more than governmental mandates. The continuing gaps and disparities in the underbelly of American democracy demands a new age of widespread mentorship. This ancient tradition of apprenticeships must be given new life in the 21st century for the American experiment to move closer to its lofty ideals.
In the context of Adventism, both of us have been involved in leadership of the Socrates AfterSchool Project based on the campus of Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan. This program involves students mentoring students. Andrews University students volunteer in the surrounding communities of Berrien Springs, Buchanan, and Benton Harbor offering free tutoring at several sites, including area schools and social organizations, like Boys and Girls Club.
In addition, Desmond founded Building Excellence in Science and Technology (BEST), which advocates for and provides early research participation opportunities for youth in Southwest Michigan. During the last few years Charity has become more actively involved in mentoring at-risk youth in urban settings. Many of these mentoring opportunities have come from her involvement with Harbor of Hope, a Seventh-day Adventist church plant in Benton Harbor, Michigan, that seeks to reach families by connecting with kids and teens. Charity is also finding other opportunities through Wintley Phipps' U.S. Dream Academy, an innovative, national afterschool and mentoring program that helps thousands of at-risk youth, especially children of incarcerated parents, realize their dreams. In each of these cases there are ample examples of mentors impacting the trajectory of a young person’s life in a positive way.
We suggest that each person find their own mentoring path by sharing their gifts, knowledges, labors of love and passion with someone else eager to learn. We have both found that ‘the harvest truly is great but the laborers are few’ (Luke 10:2). Mentor today.
Charity Garcia is currently a visiting scholar at the University of Maryland, College Park and a Curriculum & Instruction doctoral student at Andrews University. She is also a curriculum consultant, is passionate about minority & urban education, and is a committed mentor of at-risk youth.
Dr. Desmond H. Murray is Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, MI.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/2194