Tag: Mentor

So Many Dreams Deferred

Sometimes you look into the eyes of children you see a sense of hopelessness, fear, or just confusion.  It could be about their current situation, their past or not seeing a difference between the two because they have never been taught or allowed to dream.  Dreams awaken us to the possibilities of what life could be and sometimes it is just that possibility of living those dreams that keeps us going – young and old alike!

The notion of losing the ability to pursue your dreams has been eloquently expressed in these lines from a poem by Langston Hughes “What happens to a dream deferred? / Does it dry up / Like a raisin in the sun?” (Hughes 1-3).

Langston Hughes raises the challenges of achieving the dream, particularly but not solely, by those who exist in the poorest parts of our society in yet another poem saying “And then the wall rose, / Rose slowly, slowly, / Between me and my dream”  (Hughes 8-11).

Sometimes as children we don’t know how to dream or what to dream because we are not encouraged to dream.  Sometimes as children and adults we just don’t know how to get there or where there is because everything seems stacked against us like the wall or walls coming up between us and our dream(s).  The wall can be racism, money, education, little or no family support, any number of things and any of these can quickly squash a dream.

It is important to dream.  Important for our children because how else can they get motivated to see themselves with a future that is rich and full and I am not talking about money!  Important for adults and seniors for how else can we continue to have life that is full and satisfying.

One of the greatest things we can teach our children is how to dream – dream of a world beyond the one in which they live, dream of themselves in any job they can think of, dream of themselves successful and happy, dream of themselves surrounded by friends, family and love.  Teach them that with dreams they can learn, discover and challenge themselves to be the best they can be for that is the only way to make the dream a reality.  Even in retirement, I still dream of all that I can do.  One is never too young or too old to dream – do you?

Girls? Girls? Girls? Yes! Yes! Yes!!

“Inspiring girls to be strong, smart and bold!”

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.

Yes!  Yes!  Yes!


Thank You, Viola Davis!

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!

There is no time like the present to prepare yourself for your future!


canstockphoto1399857Are you working your dream job?

In our world today, if you are able to make a living doing the things that you truly love to do, things that truly excite and motivate you, things that make you happy to get up each morning and leave the house looking forward to the day’s challenges, you should feel truly special.  Many people go through their day marking time.  Just watching the clock click away the minutes until finally, it is time to leave – and that is sad.  Whether you are new to the workforce or a seasoned veteran in your job, you need to take a look at yourself and at your job to see what you can do to make your job, your career something that will give you the satisfaction that you need.  We all can dream.  We need to see ourselves in those dreams and realize that it is only a dream as long as we do not take steps towards making it our reality.

canstockphoto16950246A lot of people start their work careers at a fast food franchise or cashiering in a big box store.  Many do not aspire to make that their life’s career but don’t know how to move forward and change that position.  Rather than bemoan the fact that you seem to be “stuck” take a look around you and see what you can do to make a change.

Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

  1. Be patient!  I know you want to have everything happen now but sometimes it just doesn’t work that way.  Realize that you have things to learn – about the job, about yourself and about working with others.  This takes time and patience.  canstockphoto7810267
  2. Learn all you can about the industry or profession you choose.  Do your research using the internet, personal contacts, professional contacts, job fairs, professional journals, mentors – by any means you can find. Learn about the educational requirements and what it takes to succeed.  Go to job fairs and make inquiries at companies similar to the field you want to enter and see what opportunities are available or how you can break into the field.
  3. Take advantage of opportunities in your current position to showcase your talents.  Perhaps you are very good with people or very good problem solving.  Volunteer for opportunities to work with other employees in positions that many be different from yours to learn more about the company or to just learn how they were able to get the position that they have.
  4. Never, never, never leave free money on the table!  By that I mean take advantage of every opportunity that your employer offers.  Free tuition – take classes!  Whether you start with one class a semester or more, someone else has offered to help you pay the tuition.  Unsure what to study?  Begin with some basic requirements that will be common to any major while you whittle down the courses to what your major will become.  You will still be ahead of the game.  canstockphoto26916544Contribute to any employee savings account that provides for matching funds from your employee.  It is NEVER too early to start saving for your future.  Even if all you can afford is $10 a pay check.  You begin something that will become a habit that you will take with you to every job you have and down the road when you look at retirement, you will be glad you did.
  5. Treat yourself with respect and show the same to others.  A smile goes a long way.  You may be having a bad day but so may your co-worker, or your customer, or even the person you are talking to on the phone (yes, I do feel a smile can be conveyed in the way you talk).  Always, always, always be courteous and respectful and as the golden rule says “treat others as you would have them treat you.”  canstockphoto15751345The customer may not always be right but the customer or client or co-worker is always entitled to your best and your best includes respectful treatment.  Your smile and “Hello, how may I help you” may be the only kind thing that person hears today.  Their response may be the only kind thing you hear today.  It showcases your people skills if you are successful and gives you something to work on if you are not.  If a co-worker treats you disrespectfully, that does not mean you need to be disrespectful back to them.  Try to find a way to have a discussion either directly or through a supervisor or colleague to find the source of the problem.  There are times when you will run into people you just cannot get along with but you can learn to respect the position or the workplace and put those issues aside.
  6. canstockphoto8999957Model your behavior and dress after someone you aspire to be.  Learn your work culture and dress and act appropriately.  Maybe in an advertising firm there is unlimited room to be a free spirit but most workplaces, while you don’t want to be a clone, you don’t want to be the person who looks out of place.  You also don’t want to be the person that does not reflect the particular workplace.  There is casual work attire and then there is appropriate casual work attire.  Unless you are a fitness instructor or work at a fitness apparel company, there is never a good reason to wear stretch pants or yoga pants to work!  Your attire reflects who you are and when at work, you represent the company you work for.
  7. Get a mentor!  I recently heard of a Joseph, young man fresh out of university, who turned down an opportunity become a mentee of another Peter, a professional with whom I am acquainted.  I knew that Peter would be a wonderful mentor because he was caring, compassionate, experienced and connected.  Joseph man felt that when Peter could not point him to a better job during their initial conversation “the man couldn’t even promise me a job!”  It is important to recognize that a mentor may not always be someone who can give you a job.  However, that mentor can make the difference in your ability to find a job on your own.  Mentors are eager to advise and counsel you in how to be the best person you can be.  A mentor can guide you in busness etiquette, advise you on coursework you may need, open doors and help to make introductions to others who may potentially have business opportunities, listen to you and help work through your frustrations or provide help in making decisions.  A mentor can prepare you to be ready to accept the opportunities that come your way.  Never turn down the opportunity to benefit from the experience and knowledge a mentor can provide – they will be your biggest cheerleader and greatest supporter!

IMG_1365Are you waiting for things to happen to you rather than preparing yourself to make it happen?  Whether your journey is just beginning or you are changing lanes, so much awaits you if you make the most of the talents that you have and take advantage of the resources around you.


No time off from being a role model and a mentor!

Male child student_1Can 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.

Mentoring_2We 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.

Mentoring_5The 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.

woman in office_2When 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.

Male at work_1Woman in workplace_1Mentors 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!

Allen Kids

Mentoring Aisha – the quiet tower of strength.


IMG_0337 - Copy

How we met.

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.

FullSizeRender(1) - CopyAisha’s background.

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.

IMG_1272(2) - CopyWe 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.

IMG_0338 - CopyAttachment-1 - CopyGraduation 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.

Clolita 8.2015.2.0



Chidinma responds

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. 

Clolita 8.2015.4.0.jpgAs 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.  Our friendship developed quickly as we shared similar personalities including a love for family, care for others, love of fashion and much more. Our mentor-mentee friendship soon progressed to a mother and daughter relationship. We would frequently plan lunches, dinners, and movies where she would pick me up, pay for the meals and movies, and drop me off on campus afterwards. She invited me to join her family one Thanksgiving where I met her wonderful family.   I attended my first baseball game in America to see the Baltimore orioles in Camden Yards with Clolita and her husband, Frank, where they treated me like their daughter, and even bought me an Orioles souvenir shirt afterwards.

I quickly told my parents in Nigeria about my American second mum and they made sure to call and thank her.  When they visited the US in the summer, we would all get together, and when I visited Nigeria for Christmas, they would call to say hello. Clolita quickly became part of my family.

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. When I met the love of my life, now husband, Chima, she was one of the first people I told.  She accepted and loved Chima just as she loves me.  While I planned my wedding, I sought her advice often, and expressed my frustrations with all the planning elements to her.  I knew she had to play a special role in my big day because she is part of my journey to date so I asked if she would make a speech during my wedding, and she gladly accepted.

 As a single lady, I observed the love Ma and Frank share, the intentional steps they take to maintain their friendship and love, the way they respect and love each other and I find it truly amazing.  I hope to apply some of those qualities in my own marriage. 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.  Today, I have an amazing job as an IT Contracts and Negotiations Manager at a leading Healthcare company, and I hope she is proud of the young girl she has helped mold into a woman and how far I have come.

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!