I had a friend say to me the other day “I don’t know what my legacy will be – how I will be remembered when I am gone.” Most of us wonder about the same thing. Why are we put here on this earth? What is the meaning of my life? Some people leave a legacy that will live for the ages like presidents, popes, corporate leaders, etc. It is not just about the grand feats of architectural triumph, or performing staggering feats of medical wonder in the operating room, or being captured in the press for various and sundry reasons that will remain for all times on the internet and revealed when your name is searched. It is all in how you interact with and have an impact on the people around you.
Your legacy can be found in the impact you make by reaching out to hundreds of people through an organized effort or by reaching out to just one person and impacting that person’s life for the better. Your legacy can be in how you influenced the generation that follows you. I would like to share some of my experiences in mentoring and reaching out to others and how it comes back to you in ways you never would have dreamed of thereby enriching your own life as well. I would like to hear of ways you have done so as well and by sharing those experiences we continue to enrich each other’s lives and inspire others to do the same.
When you are trying to get the attention of approximately 180-200 girls between the ages of 5-14 on any given day at Girls, Inc., you will often hear the leaders proclaim “Girls? Girls? Girls?” to which the girls quickly respond “Yes! Yes! Yes!” Then all eyes and ears are focused on the information to come. I love it and I love this organization!
I had heard so much about Girls, Inc. about two years ago but could not find one in the Baltimore region. I was delighted to learn that there was one in Sarasota, Florida not too far from our new home. I could not wait to get settled and become an active volunteer. Given its motto “inspiring girls to be strong, smart and bold” how could you not love it!
The girls come from all walks of life. There is a fee for attending the program but with the help of donors, many girls attend either on full scholarships or with minimal payments based on their family income. All are welcome and all are represented. At the Sarasota Girls, Inc., there is a lot of diversity in ethnicity and income levels. The older girls support and engage with the younger girls so much so that many of the girls who leave the program as participants return later to volunteer.
They very much need and welcome volunteers. There is and should be diversity in the volunteers as well so that the girls can be inspired and encouraged to see themselves and the possibilities for their lives. Volunteers range from high school students to grandmothers, mothers and big sisters as well as professionals like business owners, lawyers, engineers, and artists like dancers, actors, musicians singers. The program focuses on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) but also covers creative arts and athletics. There is so much to do and learn and all of it while learning life skills, building confidence, having fun and making friends.
Do you have a Girls, Inc. near you? If so, check it out and maybe it will draw you in as it has with me. I love my first new friends in Sarasota – most of them under the age of 12.
The actress Viola Davis won the best Oscar for best supporting actress earlier this year for her phenomenal performance in the movie “Fences” with Denzel Washington. She brought me to tears as I witnessed the dignity with which she portrayed her character’s anguish and pain. Outstanding in every way!
Just as stirring as her performance in the movie was her acceptance speech at the Oscars. She always displays a profound sense of humility and looks outside of herself and the accolades heaped upon her to give thanks to others for the blessings and success she has received. In her speech she said the following:
“There is one place that all the people with the greatest potential are gathered and that’s the graveyard. People ask me all the time, what kind of stories do you want to tell, Viola? And I say exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories – the stories of the people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition, people who fell in love and lost. I became an artist and thank God I did, because we are the only profession that celebrates what it means to live a life.”
While I was moved by her words, I would add that we do not always need to look to the graveyard for our stories and inspiration. We can and should look to the youth in our communities who struggle to overcome tremendous odds to just stay alive and become responsible members of society. We can also look to people we see each and every day including friends and strangers, people at work, those who are ill or elderly – ordinary people who are alive and here can inspire us just as much as those who have left us.
As an actress, Ms. Davis inspires millions on the big screen. As an extraordinary ordinary person each one of us can strive to inspire, encourage, listen to and hear the stories of someone we interact with each and every day. We may not be able to make a movie of their lives but we can let them know that we hear them and that none of us is alone so long as others care. So I thank you, Viola, for giving us words to ponder and inspiring us to listen!
It’s been said before and certainly has not gone unnoticed everywhere you look. We are suffering from a serious lack of kindness in the way we treat each other.
As I was stepping outside of a restaurant last week to stretch a little, I opened the door and saw two women approaching. The first (“Mary”) was 60ish and about ten steps behind her was an elderly woman (“Joy”) around 80ish. Joy was using a walker and Mary kept admonishing to hurry up. I was not sure of the relationship between the two but clearly they were traveling together. I was happy to hold the door thinking that Mary would take the door and wait for Joy to catch up.
However, Mary just passed me without acknowledgment and proceeded to the hostess stand to be seated. I was surprised but happy to continue holding the door and told Joy to take her time until she, too, was in the restaurant. A few minutes later when I returned to my seat, the two were seated together reading menus. I do not know what happened between the two women prior to arriving at the restaurant but to leave an elderly woman with a walker to fend for herself at the door was more than a bit rude.
Whether it is someone we know or a stranger, it only takes a few seconds of our time to extend a courtesy and make someone’s journey a little easier. Whether it is holding a door, helping someone lighten a load, extending a supportive hand, or just giving a smile that might be the only one someone has had that day – a few precious seconds to perform random act of kindness can make the difference of a lifetime. Try it! You may like it!
When I first thought of doing this blog, I had decided to stay away from discussing politics or news. There are plenty of those discussions taking place and most often I find that one cannot even express an opinion without being met with intense vitriol or attacked for not being in complete agreement with the prevailing viewpoints of others. However, there have been certain recent events that weigh heavy on my heart as well as the hearts of many Americans, so here goes.
So far in 2016, depending on the source you use, there have been between 815 – 736 peoples shot and killed by police. Many of these were unarmed, mentally ill, and minorities. No matter what the reason, that is a huge number! Many of these instances are still under investigation in jurisdictions all over this country. The reasons run the gamut but the result is the same – dead Americans. Notice I did not say “dead Black Americans” but “Dead Americans.” No matter what the age, sex, color or political affiliation, we are still all “Americans.” What is even more frightening to me is the violence that we, as Americans and especially black Americans, inflict upon each other.
I have experienced the racism and profiling. I was stopped by the police on a busy highway coming home late one evening. He accused me of driving erratically and wanted to know if I had been drinking. I don’t drink and did not feel I was driving erratically but somehow he felt the need to pull me over.
I recall vividly when I as the only black person on my high school karate team traveling to a tournament in Virginia and we were asked to leave a restaurant because they did not serve “my kind.” I know how racism feels to be over looked at work or to have to work three times as hard to prove yourself because not only are you a minority but you are also a woman.
But when did our society turn into such a predator society where it has become OK to inflict violence upon each other without giving it a second thought? Thousands protest in anger at the person who is shot by the police but where are the protests for those who are killed by the senseless violence that continues to haunt and occupy our cities and communities?
How did we get to a place where the norm for settling disputes or grievances is to inflict pain and violence? Where we no longer respect ourselves or have a twisted view of what respect means because it is seen as synonymous with fear? When did it become the norm for innocent people like children or the elderly to be shot and killed simply because they deemed collateral damage in the settlement of a neighborhood shooting? How is anything solved by exacting the same violence on others that we feel is exacted on us?
The violence is not the answer. That is letting others define you and determine your value because you are what you do – not only your words but also your actions define your character. It defines how others see you. It defines your place in society. The answer is not in turning your back on the flag of this country but making this country live up to the meaning behind the flag and what so many have fought and died for domestically and abroad – the lives of all Americans regardless of color, religion, gender or economic status and not merely the lives of a select few. We need this for our country, for ourselves, and for children’s future. We need to be the example for our society, for our children and for everyone in working peacefully and respectfully to find a solution to these issues that have plagued us for decades – how to deal with the racism that exists and everyone move forward to find their true worth and value in our society.
Can you hear the clarion call – mentors are desperately needed!
The call is out! Now more than ever, our children and young adults need mentors and role models. Many people shy away from taking up the charge of mentoring because they feel they will not have the time. They are afraid that even one day a week, a couple hours a week donated to mentoring would be time away from busy careers. They also feel that mentoring on the weekend would take time from busy lives, social activities, and weekend commitments. But what we forget is that our every action and interaction each and every day in its own way provides a mentoring opportunity or a chance to be a role model impacting the life of someone who comes in contact with us.
We can all be a mentor – it just takes a little time.
I truly believe that the biggest role models and mentors for our children should be their parents, extended families, and teachers. But many times, our children are from single family homes where the one parent is not always available or they are sitting in classrooms that are filled with too many children all in need of the same attention. That is when they need our attention, love, and encouragement the most. They need to be lifted and shown that it is possible to achieve excellence and reach their dreams through hard work and perseverance. They need to be heard and see examples of the possibilities that life holds – sometimes even despite the circumstances In which they live. There are millions of children out here excelling in school and in their communities but their success and the fact that many do go on to achieve success in college is overshadowed by all of the coverage and attention that is given to those who succumb to drugs and criminal activities – that which is deemed most often by the media to be news worthy.
The need for a mentor does not stop at age 18.
What about college students? We tend to forget that once they are there they still need our encouragement and support.Even facing the reality of rising tuition costs, massive student loans, and the difficulty in finding a job after graduation, students are still fight hard to get into colleges and universities in order to move even further towards achieving their dreams.
When I was working at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, the president stressed how every employee was an ambassador for the campus and everyone needed to help support and encourage our students. Many of us who worked there willingly accepted that challenge and sought out every opportunity there was to participate in groups that mentored students either in groups or individually. We would often strike up conversations with students in the campus commons or at athletic events to learn more about what they were studying. Those students became friends and each time we saw each other on campus it became a mini-mentoring opportunity which they appreciated. Many of them I still remain in touch with to this day.
Mentors are needed in the workplace.
What about in the workplace? When you arrive at your office in the morning, do you take the time to speak to others that you encounter in the coffee room, the garage, at the receptionist desk – someone other than your immediate peers? How would you ever know that the receptionist works three jobs and is going to night school to complete his G.E.D. or perhaps she is working her way through college one course at a time? An encouraging word or sincere inquiry would go a long way to helping them keep that focus and motivation to succeed. Perhaps you worked your way through college and struggled to get to where you are today. Sharing that information would then make you a role model.
What is stopping you from being a mentor? As Chidinma said to me years ago before I met her “I have seen you on campus and would like to get to know you.” You never know who is watching you and who can learn from your experiences. We can all get to know each other a little better. Sharing the journey we have made and the things we have learned along the way is that easy to do. It costs nothing but pays us back in ways that cannot be measured!
Senior Legal Services working for seniors in the community.
It is important to me in retirement to continue to give back in meaningful ways by volunteering where I can now that I am retired. Senior Legal Services (“SLS”) is a joint program of the Bar Association of Baltimore City and the Baltimore Bar Foundation, Inc. It is a very small organization that provides a huge service to seniors living in Baltimore City. There are a lot of organizations providing similar services to seniors but SLS is unique in that they have a presence in the community. Seniors do not have to come to SLS. SLS goes to the seniors. They provide services in the field by going out to senior centers and senior apartment buildings, as well as conducting outreach programs at community events and church groups upon request. The organization serves as a last resort many times for seniors who may otherwise not be able to avail themselves of legal services because of the costs associated.
Eligibility to participate.
To be eligible for the program the seniors need only be a resident of Baltimore City, age 60 or older and the highest priority goes to low-income seniors. The range of matters include estate planning and administration matters (e.g., wills, advance medical directives, probate, guardianship, etc.), housing matters (e.g., landlord/tenant, foreclosure prevention, loan modification, home improvement and other types of contractual matters that adversely affect seniors).
Like many non-profits – doing so much with so very little.
I am amazed at the amount of work that is done by so few people with so few resources. They have only three full-time attorneys and rely on volunteer attorneys to fill the void when needed. They are able to take advantage of programs such as Volunteer Maryland (similar to Americorp) and the periodic use of interns to get additional help. With that staffing model, they were able to provide legal services to over 1,000 seniors in 2015. The funding is provided by the State, City and corporate partners as well as several charitable foundations.
How I got involved.
My former employer, Exelon, partnered with SLS in conducting estate clinics at various senior centers in Baltimore City. That is how I first got involved. When I approached Natalie after I retired to see how I could continue working with them, she suggested that I could accompany one of their attorneys to the Oliver Center. They generously provide space in the center so that SLS is able to meet with seniors by appointment during one of two sessions each month.
The Oliver Center – one of Baltimore’s finest senior centers.
The Oliver Center is a wonderful senior center full of vital and wonderful seniors. It is hard to keep my feet from moving sometimes when I am there. In addition to rocking line dancing classes where the dancers are often spilling into the hallway, you can find seniors attending healthy eating sessions with cooking demonstrations, working in a computer lab, taking sewing classes, and just gathering in spaces where seniors can share a few hours talking and sharing a meal with others in their community. The Oliver Center also provides information to seniors on the many services that are available through the City of Baltimore and the State so that they can be sure that their housing and health issues are addressed.
There is joy in seeing the seniors take advantage of the activities the Oliver Center and other similar centers offer around the city. Many seniors live alone and would otherwise not have the physical activity or the interpersonal activity on a regular basis. Sometimes they come to see us frustrated and even scared at their circumstances – perhaps facing foreclosure because they can no longer afford their homes, pressures from contracts that they signed without fully understanding the implications, fearful of making a will or an advance medical directive because end of life decisions can be difficult for some to face. Sometimes, they just need to talk through family matters which they do not realize may not have a legal implication but the need to talk to someone outside of their immediate family is helpful. Sometimes they have lost their spouses or children and need assistance with next steps in how to take care of their personal matters. Whatever the need, we try to help where we can and always listen compassionately.
We laugh a lot and see a lot of photos of grandchildren. It is a pleasure and honor to share in their lives and to help in any way we can. Just as we look at those younger than us and see things that we could offer them based on our own life experiences, we can also look to the seniors and embrace the lessons that they have learned. It is a journey that we all take and when we look into their eyes, we see where we want the journey to lead us.
Aisha was also a UMBC student. I met her almost 10 years ago during her sophomore year. We were introduced by a colleague who thought that she needed someone to connect with on campus and that I would be that person who could help her. I remember being struck by how she was very quiet and seemed unsure of herself and lacking in confidence yet still she exuded a kind of quiet strength underneath it all. It was as if she did not know how to dig deep and access that inner strength and become the woman she so wanted to be. She struggled with not only coming into herself but also with the reconciliation of two separate and distinct cultures – of how woman were often raised or perceived in her family’s country of Pakistan and how to be the woman she wanted to be in the United States.
Her parents are both from Lahore, Pakistan. Her father had been living in the United States for about 15 years before he married Aisha’s mom whom he met in Pakistan. After they were married they moved to Dallas,Texas where they started a floral business together in March 1982. Aisha is the eldest of four children. A year after her youngest sibling was born, the family moved to Silver Spring, Maryland. All of the siblings were able to go to college. Aisha chose UMBC for her studies. My role in her life was that of mentor and friend. We spent hours talking about things that were affecting her studies and her life in general with me listening. She was struggling with making decisions about her career and graduate school. What I find is that most young people, no matter where they are in terms of financial status or social status, need to have someone in their lives who will just listen to them. Most of the time, they already know the answer but have not given voice to it. They know what is right or wrong but need to be guided in how to vocalize it and internalize it so that the decisions they make become their own and not just voicing the decisions that others try to make for them. They need someone to listen without making judgments about the choices they are considering but who can offer insight to the pros and cons that should be considered. They also have a fear of making the wrong decision – making a mistake or failing in some way. But the truth is, we all make mistakes and we all fail at some time in our lives. We are human. The important thing is that we have do is not let ourselves be defined by the mistakes or failures we make. What defines and shapes us is how we pick up and move on from those mistakes or failures – how we let them make us a better, stronger, wiser person going forward.
We all struggle with the decision-making process.
We also need to give ourselves license to make the best decisions that we can for the circumstances that we are facing at the moment. When you are in college, you are making so many decisions about classes, majors, jobs, life choices – all of which are very important. However, it is also a time when you are learning a great deal about yourself and your ability to make decisions and choices. Sometimes it is difficult to make that one decision about what you want to do the rest of your life – and I think that’s just fine. My career went from the left to the right and then back again. I made several choices along the way and each one built on the previous one because I gained more knowledge and more experience. But it was a journey that I chose and one that I have enjoyed. For Aisha, I tried to be there for her as her biggest champion helping her to see that she could make the right decisions and guide her in her process when she needed the help. She could speak loudly with that inner voice and have confidence that she was being heard.
Graduation and beyond.
Aisha graduated from UMBC in 2006 with a degree in Psychology and later went on to complete an MPA in Policy Management and Health Policy at American University. She is now successfully employed at the National Committee for Quality Assurance in Washington, DC as a Senior Health Care Analyst. Her greatest strength is her gentle kindness and her way of finding joy in the simple things in life while at the same time being a very strong and decisive woman. With all that, I am sure that she would agree that her most amazing and proudest accomplishment is her beautiful daughter Hannah and that with the love of her wonderful husband, Naseem, she will continue her journey as the strong, confident and beautiful woman that she is. They were married in a wonderfully joyous traditional Pakistani wedding full of color, music, love and celebration. I was honored to be present for the celebration.
I sincerely hope that the journey we have taken to get us this far together, will continue for many years.
After reading my post on our relationship, Chiddy wanted to write a response to let you know how much our relationship has meant to her. You never know the way you affect people you pass along the way. You can only hope that you are able to have a positive impact as they start their own journey on the way to the rest of their lives. Here is Chiddy in her own words.
The Day a perfect stranger became my second mum ~“What having a mentor has meant to me”.
When Clolita (“Ma”), as I fondly call her, asked me to put together a short write up of what having a mentor has meant to me for her blog, I knew it would be a difficult and emotional task for me, because the journey we share is a beautiful, emotional mentor-mentee now turned mother-daughter relationship which takes me back to who I was, who I am, and where I am going. I consider Ma as my second mum sent from God. We have shared so much laughter, tears, love, and growth along the way that it would be tough capturing everything in a few words.
The merriam-webster dictionary defines a mentor as “someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person”. Clolita has been these, and much more to me.
I had finished my shift from the dean’s office and about to leave, I stepped out and saw her at the ATM in front of my office. I quietly stood behind her until she was finished at the ATM and then approached her to find out who she was. The very words from my mouth were “ Hi! I know you’re not a professor because none of my professors dress like you. I’ve seen you around campus, and I would like to know who you are and what you do.” Thankfully, she didn’t call the campus police on me for my stalkish behavior. Ma said “Ok. Hi, my name is Clolita Vitale”. That was the beginning of our relationship.
As a young teenager newly relocated to America, far away from my parents, family and familiar surrounding, experiencing college in America, growing into my own person, plunging through my academics and determined to excel, Clolita became the cornerstone I turned to for advice in times of uncertainty. She provided encouragement in times of doubt, a shoulder to cry on when I was down, and offered love when I was homesick.
Ma was very pivotal in my legal journey to becoming an attorney. I reached out to her when I faced life’s challenges and shared successes and disappointments with her. I don’t know if Ma knows how much her presence in my life has impacted me, but when I think about how the perfect stranger I met the ATM became my second mum, it brings tears to my eyes.
So when I’m asked what mentoring has meant to me, for me, my personal experience is that it has been an amazing journey. I would encourage every young person to find a mentor who they connect with, as this is critical one’s success story. More importantly, however, is to remember that mentorship is a two way street. It is not just about taking, but also giving. It is a relationship that has to be nurtured. I doubt that many would be as lucky as I am to have found a mentor and second mum all in one, but hey, I guess I’m one lucky girl!
I was asked by someone very close to me if I worried about what my legacy would be when I am gone. Not all of us can be members of the billionaires club and make the pledge to use the majority of our accumulated wealth to address the huge problems affecting the countries around the globe. That should not stop us from being able to have an impact on the lives of others or to create our own legacies. You may not even be aware of the impact that you have until someone is brave enough to just approach you and ask.
How I met Chidinma.
About nine years ago, when I was working as an Assistant Vice President/General Counsel at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (“UMBC”), I was at the on-campus ATM making a withdrawal. From the corner of my eye, I saw an attractive young woman standing off to the side. I thought she was waiting to access the machine so I tried to be quick with my transaction. As I turned to walk away, she moved forward and rather than approaching the ATM, she walked right up to me and introduced herself. She then proceeded to say that she had seen me around campus and really wanted to know who I was and what I did. Her smile was engaging and she was so serious. I was curious about her as well so I invited her to walk with me back to my office and that began our mentor/mentee relationship that has lasted since then. Read more