If You Want A Mentor, Be A Mentor

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times. Sometimes it comes in the form of a sincere and impassioned letter, along with a resumé, business plan, or press kit. Often, the request is earnestly delivered after an introduction and the proferring of a business card at a conference. On occasion, I even receive appeals in the form of a long and painstakingly composed e — mail message. The entreaty can come from an eager young executive, a budding entrepreneur, or an ambitious college student: “Mr. Graves, would you please be my mentor?”

On occasions too numerous to count, I have enthusiastically embraced the role of mentor. In fact, it’s a large part of my life’s mission. Whether it’s an employee in need of assistance, an entrepreneur struggling with a challenge, or a corporate executive seeking a path to the corner office, I have always found it personally rewarding to encourage the growth and advancement of young blacks. Then, as my protégés bolster their professional standing and earning power, I direct them to reach back and help another African American realize his or her full potential.

I absolutely reject the notion that we should accept a shortage of mentors: Too many of those looking for guidance, advice, and encouragement have not made the commitment to offer the same to others. To those of you out there aggressively and even desperately seeking mentorship, I ask: Whom are you mentoring?

The three most valuable keys to the success of African Americans are education, employment, and mentorship. Our ability to access and exploit the first two keys — whether we are talking about dealing with the challenges facing young black males or overcoming obstacles to the advancement of black women executives in corporate America — hinges heavily on the third key, access to mentorship. Almost all of us, no matter our station in life, have the capacity to mentor someone else — this goes double for BLACK ENTERPRISE readers and wealth builders.

If you are in college, you can go back to your high school or hometown and help provide encouragement and insight to someone who has given up on the idea of higher education or may even be intimidated by it. (As a Morgan State College undergrad, I did just that for one of my friends from my old Brooklyn neighborhood. Because he couldn’t afford a place to live on campus once he enrolled at Morgan, crashing wherever there was a free room, sofa, or bed, we called him “Roach.” Today, we call him Dr. Walter Lee, a successful surgical dentist.) If you are a college graduate in the early stages of your career, you can go back to your alma mater to help one or two undergrads understand how to prepare for the job market or graduate school. No matter who you are, you can share what you know; make introductions; offer a glimpse of your college campus, workplace, or business; and provide others with the necessary raw materials to begin to visualize and formulate their