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5 Women Share How They Found Their Mentors & How It Changed Their Lives

Workin' Girl

Just a few years ago, I was a recent grad in a new city with no knowledge of how to play the industry game. Fast Company articles didn't provide enough tips for a young, gifted black woman in Corporate America and I needed a guide on how to break through this tough communications market that is New York. I was lucky enough to find guidance in my mentor, Scheron Brown, who has become the shoulder I lean on as life's lemons turned into lemonade.

Many black women continue to struggle to find someone to lift them up and pull them forward in their career because finding a mentor isn't easy, and we just want to be in the presence of greatness to learn the ropes on how to maximize our own potential. Mentorship has become one of the key ingredients many say is needed to move forward in your career. It's the secret sauce many of us are still in search of as we navigate Corporate America and build our brands and businesses.

Here are a few women who share how they found their mentor and how their mentorship has helped them along the way:

Ericka Hatfield, 36

Her Occupation

Brand Development Director of SJS Consultants and CEO of The BB Group

Her Mentor

"My mentor's name is Florence Mitchell-Brown and her company handles operations for some of the largest production studios and companies in the entertainment business. It started as a business relationship and we had a great rapport. I knew I wanted her to be not only my mentor, but someone who was a part of my life. She is truly my big sister in every way imaginable. I can discuss career strategies, relationships, and my faith with my mentor. I didn't have any set expectations, but I knew that I could learn a tremendous amount from her and she was someone I would benefit from greatly, not only professionally but spiritually and emotionally."

The Impact

"I believe mentorship plays a huge role in career success, access, and opportunities. It is also a great way to learn and grow from someone you trust. I really focused on finding a mentor in 2015. I was in the beginning stages of being at the senior level of my career and realized I wanted and needed an executive woman as a mentor. I had previously had male mentors but I really wanted a woman as it comes with a different set of challenges that men often do not understand. I knew I wanted to diversify my mentors. I had not previously had a black woman as a mentor and felt that it was a dynamic I had been missing."

"I had not previously had a black woman as a mentor and felt that it was a dynamic I had been missing."

Her Advice

"Make the relationship easy and accessible for your mentor. Calls, emails, Skype, social media, and text are great ways to communicate when you may not always have time for a face-to-face interaction."

Zaina Adamu, 32

Her Occupation

Cross-Platform Associate Producer at CNN

Her Mentor

"I have several mentors, but the one I meet with the most is Lashana Williams, a senior director at TBS. Speaking with someone regularly who is in a position I'd like to be in one day is motivating. It's a constant reminder that I can achieve my goals. In every situation, my mentorships flourished from simply establishing and building relationships with people I looked up to. Once I found the value in those relationships, I realized how critical they are in my life. No one gets to the top of their industries alone. We all need help."

The Impact

"When I first found a mentor who was willing to help, I didn't have any expectations, but I've found that they are an essential part of my growth as a professional. Not having one would have made my journey more difficult to navigate. I recognized early that I didn't have all the answers and having someone with more experience and knowledge to guide me has literally been my saving grace. I can't stress enough how important it is to ask for help and be willing to receive it."

Her Advice

"Don't be intimidated by titles. If you see someone you admire, request to meet with them briefly for advice. Everyone loves talking about themselves. Ask them how they reached success in their lives and check in with them periodically to see how they're doing. It's one of the best things you can do for yourself."

Folasade' Ogunnmokun, 28

Her Occupation

Owner of Unskrypted TV

Her Mentor

"My mentor is Latilda Owens and she is a financial analyst for the Virginia Commonwealth, as well as a mom, business mentor, and active member of the Richmond community. She does it all! Latilda and I have mutual friends and would end up in the same circle and she told me about an organization she was a part of that helped small business owners find guidance. She knew that I was working on my video production business and was interested in my work and my marketing method. Her being intrigued, inclined me to ask questions about how she felt about my work and what she thought I could do better to improve. She suggested I find a mentor through her organization Thrive and invited me to a few business events."

The Impact

"Latilda advises me on way more than just career goals. She helps me deal with life. I only expected for her to donate information about events, opportunities, and pitch contests. She has given me way more, like how to approach difficult clients or creative blocks. She's like a big sister who speaks up, even when I want to shut my ears. I thought it was important to find a mentor because I felt lost. I always looked up to my parents for answers but as I started to do things that my parents and older siblings never did, I had to find people who understood me and could help me grow. I don't believe you can do it alone and my parents and siblings got me to a certain point but it's up to me to find the help to go the rest of the way."

Her Advice

"A lot of times we overlook the women right in front of our eyes. We've picked out what our perfect mentor will look like, do, and be. Often times we have marked off our perfect match. Your mentor doesn't have to look like you and they certainly don't have to think like you, but they have to have an interest in seeing you succeed. I truly believe that if you put it out there that you want to learn and grow, that you will receive the person that can get you where you need to be. Be receptive and ready to act on the information being given to you, or expect to lose a great relationship."

"A lot of times we overlook the women right in front of our eyes."

Bee Pollard, 26

Her Occupation

Writer and Freelance Journalist

Her Mentor

"My mentor is a beautiful and successful black woman named Alissa Richardson. She's an award-winning journalist and assistant professor at USC who recently received her doctorate. I wasn't actively searching for a mentor nor did I believe I needed one. However, the moment I met her, I was just overwhelmed with her accolades, her experience, and her warm, welcoming spirit. She really lit the fire under me to hone my skills as a hungry writer, ultimately making me see that I could really make moves with my passion as my bread and butter. I came to her at the end of class about four years ago, and asked her if she minded being my mentor. With a smile, she agreed and our journey began."

The Impact

"She's pushed me to my limit. Mediocrity was and still is not a word in our vocabulary when it comes to my growth. She's presented me with so many opportunities for writing, editing, producing, and pitching. We've worked together on personal and professional projects that exposed me to the ins and outs of the industry. Allissa's always made time for me, being a shoulder when I needed it, a stern voice when I slacked, and a champion for all my wins. Our mentoring relationship has turned into a true friendship as I see her as my sister. She's given me so much confidence and made me believe that my voice was important. As a black woman in this world, much less this industry, I needed that so desperately."

"She's pushed me to my limit. Mediocrity was and still is not a word in our vocabulary when it comes to my growth."

Her Advice

"Find the person that mirrors your passion, your energy, your drive, and your appearance. There's something so comforting about having a black woman with a similar journey and similar-but-diverse narrative who I can relate to on levels unmatched. Your mentor should not only enrich your life as a career woman, but also be a source of light in your personal times of darkness. My mentor became my sister in a matter of years organically; I encourage all black women to find someone who can do the same."

Donicia Hodge, 30

Her Occupation

Brand Creative Project Associate at BET Networks

Her Mentors

"I have been lucky enough to have several mentors in my life during every stage of my professional career. One of my mentors' name is Assemblyman Bob Sweeney, retired. He inspired me to travel and get my Master of Science International Communications degree from St. John's University. I just always remember him saying, 'Don't let anyone take away your dreams. You go out there and make me proud.' If it wasn't for him, I would've never gone back to school or travel as much as I do now. My other mentor, Kai Brown welcomed me with open arms at BET. We have our bi-weekly check-ins and she makes me think about my future, which has helped me in my career thus far."

Her Advice

"It's already hard enough for young black women to move up in a higher position and better salary in the work environment. Surround yourself with people that have similar interests as you and you may find your mentor in that space naturally. When it happens, you'll know. Last, but not least, closed mouths don't get fed!"

These women found people to uplift them and pull them forward in their careers. Do you have a mentor? How has your mentor made a difference in you life?

Featured image by Getty Images

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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Featured image by Shutterstock

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