A couple weeks ago, famous black author, teacher and professor emeritus, Toni Morrison passed away at the age of 88. Fans poured out tributes celebrating her work and the legacy she left behind. As people were sharing their favourite writings, teachings and quotes, one particularly stood out for me. Toni Morrison, the first black woman to win a Nobel prize in literature, said :
“I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.”
Toni Morrison highlighted the importance of mentorship and empowering others through our achievements. I believe this is especially important for those living and working in the diaspora, where it may be challenging for new immigrants to access career opportunities, networks, education and training. If you have had the privilege to access these opportunities, you can use it to help others.
I have personally benefited from the “freedom” of others who mentored me, helped me access valuable opportunities and expanded my networks. I know without the mentorship from people such as my graduate school advisor, professors, various career mentors, my parents etc., it would have been a much tougher road to access opportunities and gain the skills I have thus far.
There is a misconception that you need to have gained a considerable amount of success in order to become a mentor. Another big misconception is that you need to commit a significant amount of time to mentor. Also, many times we may mentor without realizing it. Mentorship can take shape in various forms – it can be formal or informal. It may be looking over someone’s resume or cover letter for revisions and editing, it can be phone calls to go over potential interview questions, email correspondences giving advice on entrepreneurial pursuits, editing proposals, tutoring, or coaching.
It can be one-on-one or it can be in a group setting. It can be long term or short term. You can mentor someone in another country – thanks to technology. Among diasporans, we can give back to our communities back home by partnering with local organizations and provide support based on our skills and experience.
There is no universal guide on mentorship. The main goal is sharing your skills and knowledge in any capacity that you can and at any stage you are in.
Become a mentor. Free someone else.