Power of Mentoring for Social Change

Mentoring is a modern, yet ancient, concept dating back to the classic tale of adventure and personal challenge known as The Odyssey. When Homer, the story's main character, goes off to war, he leaves his son Telemachus in the care of a trusted friend named Mentor who serves as a teacher and caretaker for young man in his father's absence. Over the years, while the settings and circumstances to use a mentor have changed, the essence of Mentor's role lives on.

Today, just as in ancient times, mentoring is essential on so many levels. Mentors inspire, give sage advice, share perspective, motivate and help each of us develop new skills and new ideas. Mentors do more than help new employees learn the basics of the workplace. They also help others develop values and new perspectives on the world. Mentors who embrace and embody social change, help mentees develop a sense of social impact. As a raft of mentees heads out into the world, their mentors' influence goes with them, impacting the future growth and development of social movements around the globe. Through mentoring, the human face of history is shared with the next generation, and we see how mentoring relationships sustain the efforts to build and expand civil rights and human rights through working for social change.

What does it mean to be a mentor, specifically, a mentor for social change? In reflecting on the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), we can see that an important part of the growth and development of the disability rights movement has come from meaningful mentoring relationships. We can see similarities to the women's rights movement, the LGBT rights movement and other social movements.

A mentor must care about the people he or she is mentoring, not only about a specific issue or topic, but more broadly must care about mentees as whole persons. The mentor must also be available to stay in touch with those he or she mentors, meaning mentoring is a truly sustainable relationship. A mentor must also think of himself or herself as a role model, taking responsibility for the actions, activities and words he or she displays and represents. From the perspective of a mentee, a great mentor cares, is available and represents as a true role model. Remember, too, that the mentoring relationship is also a two-way street, and mentees must be willing to invest their time, energy and actions into heeding the wisdom shared with them.

Since mentoring cuts across boundaries of gender, race, religion, nationality and disability, it has potential to impact individuals, communities and create social change here in the United States and around the world. The occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the ADA is a great moment to recognize and acknowledge the role of mentorship and the mentors in the disability rights movement. It is also a time to think about other occasions and moments throughout our lives where we can appreciate mentors, whether at graduations, reunions, anniversaries, promotions or birthdays.

Globally, we encourage everyone to find a way to recognize the role of mentors and mentorship in our lives and in the social movements we embrace. Never take a mentoring relationship for granted, whether you are the mentor or the mentee. Mentors be humble, mentees be learners and together we can forge social change. Let's continue to recognize, celebrate and appreciate the treasures mentors and mentees represent. We are teammates in our collective journeys.

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