As part of our ongoing Mentors of Color campaign, a recruitment campaign to target new mentors of color and enhance the cultural competency of mentoring programs, we are pleased to be able to highlight mentors of color making an impact in the community during Black History Month.
This guest post is written by Derrick Duplessy, executive director of the Duplessy Foundation. Derrick is a member of the Mentors of Color advisory council. If you would like more information about the Mentors of Color campaign, please email Bernice Osborne, manager of the Mentors of Color campaign, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s funny how, where, and why mentoring takes place. I want to tell you a story about a mentoring relationship that developed in an unlikely scenario.
My good friend Warren, used to live in South Boston and we played basketball on a court near a church on East Third Street. It was an interesting time for me personally because I was working as an executive consultant yet I still felt the need to find and pursue my calling. Basketball with Warren was a way of clearing my head and putting those worries down for an hour or two.
There was one young man who kept wanting to play. Let’s be clear, he had no chance against me and I proceeded to soundly beat him on the basketball court in almost every game we played. His teams would lose to mine and one-on-one the results were even worse. Ten years his senior and dramatically shorter (he is 6’2 and I am 5’7), I kept beating him. He got so fed up that he actually asked me to teach him about basketball. I thought to myself, “what a bizarre request.” I took him up just to see how far he would go and how much constructive criticism he could take.
I found out that the young man’s name was Mike. He liked Manu Ginobili, so I called him Manu. He called me Dwyane Wade. Mike was a junior in high school and he seemed pretty smart. When I would ask him about his future plans, he would shrug and shoot a horrible-looking shot. He told me that he was diagnosed with ADHD and figured out that “school wasn’t for people like me.” I wanted to help him get over that mental barrier and find some career that he could make him happy.
Over the next year and a half, I taught him how to shoot, play defense, run the pick and roll, and play in the post (sorry for the inside basketball, non-sports fans). He ate it up. He got frustrated and cussed me out too. I was so frustrated because he had this strange sense of entitlement and he would take very little responsibility for the losses. I knew at the very least, the lessons were making him feel something. Although the win/loss ratio was lopsided in my favor, he started to eke out wins. I saw his confidence growing and trust building.
Two pivotal moments made it all worth the effort for me. One day we were playing and it was a close game. We would always play to seven points and continue if one person did not win by 2 points. It was an epic game as we were making shot after shot. He beat me. That was not the incredible part. He concentrated and cleared his mind of any doubt about his ability or his perceived inferiority to me and others. I knew from that point on that he would not have to get lessons from me – he would take responsibility to learn more on his own.
Eventually over time, I learned that Mike wanted to become a sports broadcaster. I thought he could do it too. This guy could not shut up about sports. His favorite was basketball, but he had encyclopedic knowledge of players and teams of every sport. I challenged him to read Bill Simmon’s 700 page “Book of Basketball” in a week. I asked him to write 500 words about each 100 pages he read in a blog, every day. I did the same and fell behind. He actually read the book, did the blog entries, and did it on time. I saw his confidence growing and trust building.
Today, Mike is one of the fellows in Duplessy Foundation’s Purpose Fellowship program. The program prepares 18 to 24-year-old artists not enrolled in four-year college that grew in up in Boston for community leadership. He is taking a writing composition course at Roxbury Community College and his first two grades were both an A-. He wants to continue taking classes and is bringing up what were once unfathomable ideas like degrees and graduation. Most importantly, he now knows that he can be a sports broadcaster and he is taking personal responsibility for his success.Writing this story makes me feel like a part of Dr. King’s dream is truly coming to fruition. As you can see in this picture, I am black and Mike is white. A white young man trusting and seeking guidance from a black man in a mentoring relationship is pretty cool. On a personal note, he helped me realize that while I was getting away from thinking about my calling on the basketball court, it was staring me right in the face.