The Lessons 4 Successful Women Learned From The "Mentors In Their Head"

men·tor/ˈmenˌtôr,ˈmenˌtər/noun – an experienced and trusted adviser.

Workin' Girl

men·tor/ˈmenˌtôr,ˈmenˌtər/noun – an experienced and trusted adviser.

The meaningful connections created through mentoring is incomparable. There's something about having another being who is not obligated to pour into you, see something in you, and choose to invest in your future. While having an actual mentor is amazing, most of us are guilty of dreaming up a guide that helps us navigate our lives. For me, it's Elaine Welteroth. Her unapologetic yet compassionate leadership style inspires me daily.

There's no more success-gatekeeping in our community. We will lift each other up and share the wealth. That wealth is knowledge. Because knowledge is power, we gathered some successful women to share their "mentor in their heads", how they have helped them grow, and how they define success. With the gems they dropped, you may have to create an imaginary board of directors with these bosses on the roster.

Lindsey Granger

Photo Courtesy of Lindsey Granger

Lindsey Granger
Owner, LG Productions & Host, Daily Blast Live
Media/Television Industry
Denver, CO & Houston, TX

Her mentor in her head & why she chose them:

"My mentor in my head is Soledad O'Brien. I met her once before at a National Association of Black Journalists convention when I was still a student at Temple University. She is a woman of color whose existence has opened doors for me and so many other people aspiring to master media. Soledad not only has a very successful career in front of the camera from NBC to CNN to HBO, she's a rockstar that owns her very own production company called Starfish Media Group. Soledad has made it a point, throughout her career, to cover issues that matter with complexity of thought and attention to true journalism. Her CNN series, Black in America and Latino in America broke records at the time they were released and enhanced the national conversation in a way that was fascinating to me. She's also from Long Island, New York...so we have a lot in common. I really do hope we're able to sit down and have coffee one day."

What she's learned from their triumphs:

"I've learned that it's OK to be myself - my full self. Soledad O'Brien has never shied away from asking tough questions, pushing back to fight for what's right and speaking her mind in public forums - that is something I had to learn to finally get comfortable with at age 32. I've learned that lofty goals are achievable with the proper amount of commitment to your craft and work ethic.

"Soledad is an award-winning documentarian, journalist, public speaker, author, production company owner and philanthropist. I've learned that there is success in telling fair and accurate stories about communities of color. Soledad is largely to credit for the huge growth in African-American viewership for CNN because she made it a point to provide a space for uplifting stories about our community. I walk in her footsteps knowing the responsibility I have to handle the platform I have been given, with care."

What she's learned from their trials:

"I watched a recent interview where Soledad discussed her exit from CNN. She talked about new management coming in and how she was essentially demoted, but she was offered the opportunity to stay. She ultimately turned that down and moved forward working on her own projects. As a Black woman in media, who was working for NBC during the time of Ann Curry's exit on live television as well as Tamron Hall's disheartening exit, I understand that this industry and its treatment of women as a whole is absurd."

"I've always wanted to own my own production company - write, produce and edit my own material so no one would ever be able to tell me when my time in front of, or behind the camera was coming to an end. I made it a point to learn several aspects of the business and follow the footsteps of the women named above so that I can continue to create content that I'm passionate about, until I'm ready to be done doing so."

Advice she would give to a woman that may think of her as the mentor in their head:

"I would tell them to be fearless and bold when pursuing things they're invested in. I've learned so much over the years that I wish I would have known at a younger age. I've learned that you never get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate. I've learned that if you're uncomfortable with an interview or any task required of your job - you should be vocal and make your stance crystal-clear. The most important thing that I've learned is that authenticity will take you the farthest.

"For years, I was trying to replicate so many other broadcasters I have seen on television and I was always 'playing a role' because I wasn't being myself. The time when I was most authentically myself, let my guard down and was unafraid to speak my mind, was when my message was the most well-received. Be yourself, enjoy the ride and most importantly to all my ladies who are critical of any part of their appearance - you look great, trust me!"

A mantra that shapes her life:

"I meditate once, sometimes twice a day and at the end of each meditation, I give myself a hug and say, 'You are love, you deserve love.' I like to start the day loving myself first and setting myself up to be open to abundance - of course, I have my bad days, but I do believe that loving yourself and meditation are essential."

What she wants her mentor in her head to know about how they've shaped her journey:

"I am an extremist and genuinely study the career paths of people I admire. I would love Soledad to know that she helped a young girl from Long Island realize that anything was possible. I credit my interest in pursuing journalism to Soledad and many of the local News 12 anchors that I grew up watching. It's amazing what seeing someone who looks like you can do to help shape what goals you may develop. I now have my own production company which I started one year ago - Lindsey Granger Productions, I host a nationally syndicated television show and I am intentionally focusing on stories that matter to my community and uplift my community."

"I would say she has shaped my journey more than even I could imagine."

Carmen Jones

Photo Courtesy of Carmen Jones

Carmen Jones
Founder & CEO of The Black Girl Social Club
Atlanta, GA

Her mentor in her head & why she chose them:

"Over the years, I have really taken a liking to Issa Rae. I follow her closely. She reminds me so much of myself. What I love about her is that she refused to take 'no' for an answer. And when she did get rejected, she decided to do it herself. She is innovative, about her business, and you can tell that she wants to use her art to connect with Black millennials. I also love how she worked her butt off, did what she had to do, got her coins and her man and then disappeared. No social media antics, no drama. Just business. The blueprint!"

What she's learned from their triumphs:

"What I've learned from Issa is pretty simple-when you stay true to yourself, and don't give up, great things can happen."

What she's learned from their trials:

"I learned that the worst thing that can happen is someone tells you 'no', but in the end, it isn't really the worst thing at all."

Advice she would give to a woman that may think of her as the mentor in their head:

"To be honest, I'm not sure I'm a great advice-giver. My friends will have to follow up on this. But what I like to do with people who have come to me for mentorship is to teach them by showing them. They have to be hands-on. That's how you know when someone is serious-they've moved beyond just talking, and they're actually doing it. So any mentees I have are people who are actually doing the work. I think giving advice is a waste of time when you're talking to people who don't plan to do anything with it. So I guess if I had to give advice, it would be, start now. Be willing to learn, and do the work."

A mantra that shapes her life:

"Great things never came from comfort zones. I stand by that mantra, and it's how I live my life. One thing I know is that nothing great comes from complacency. Of course, the end goal is comfort, a nice life, a happy life, full of wonderful and healthy relationships. And I believe we can certainly have those things along the way. But there's always lessons to be learned, and work that needs to be done. I've learned so much from my 'failures' and challenges. The problem is, most people don't want to do the work, and when things get hard, they quit. When things get hard in my life, I push harder."

How she defines success:

"Success is having a goal and achieving it, not giving up. I don't allow other people to define what success looks like for me. Instagram doesn't define my success. The media doesn't. Not even the closest people in my life. I am the only person who can do that, and for me, it's simply doing what I said I would, and doing it well."

What she wants her mentor in her head to know about how they've shaped her journey:

"I just want the good sis Issa to know that her story is an inspiration to Black women who think differently and want to do things differently. What I love about Issa is that she doesn't try to be like everyone else. There's something about HER and her unique talent and thought process that lets me know she will have longevity. I'm thankful she stayed the course so she could serve as a motivator for women like me."

Patientce Foster

Courtesy of Patientce Foster

Patientce Foster
Chief Executive Officer at The Cream Agency
New York City, NY

Her mentor in her head & why she chose them:

"Opposed to popular opinion, I would have to say Kris Jenner has been a long-time mentor in my head. She may not have come face-to-face with some of the traditional obstacles and trials that a black woman would have to face. However, she did have to fight through a thick stigma that developed around her family early on. Not only was she able to do that but she was able to create an entire legacy for her family, putting everyone in positions to create wealth for themselves and their children. For that, that is why she's my mentor in my head."

What she's learned from their triumphs:

"I've learned from her triumphs that there's absolutely nothing that you cannot have and you cannot be simply because of what the world says that you are. I have learned that things take time to develop, to flourish, to grow.

"I have learned that it doesn't matter how old you are, the day you decide who you want to be for the rest of your life is completely up to you and within your control and your power. I have also learned that there is no limit, no cap to success. You don't have to go alone. You can bring whomever along with you as long as they are just as ambitious, hungry and driven as you are."

What she's learned from their trials:

"Pretty much the same thing. The world can tell you who they think you are but that's not who you have to be or who you have to remain as. You can choose whoever you want to be. There is no mistake big enough to completely stop the growth and stop your future from completely flourishing into all the things you envisioned for yourself and your life. For crying out loud, her daughter had a sex tape and they were able to pivot, adapt and capitalize off of that one moment."

Advice she would give to a woman that may think of her as the mentor in their head:

"Number one, let my trials, tribulations, and obstacles be a reference point for inspiration but don't ever let it be your blueprint. Everyone's journey is different. How everyone gets it will not be the same. How everyone grows and succeeds will always be different because we are all different individuals and what is for us is for us. I will always say please continue to use me as a reference for what it is you want or for where it is you want to be, whether that be industry-focused, levels of success, my accomplishments but don't ever think that I am your blueprint.

"You are your blueprint. You create your blueprint. You build a plan of action that works for your life and for the people in it and your ambitions. I just want to be an inspiration. Let me be your reference for inspiration."

A mantra that shapes her life:

"'It is what it is.' It's simple and I keep it on the front of my desk. Yes, I could come up with a thousand mantras of how to succeed and how to completely change the trajectory of your life, how to wake up every day and build the life you want but no, it's very simple. It is what it is. That's my mantra because a lot of times in this lifetime, no matter what industry you choose to work in, no matter what you're going through personally or professionally, there are things that happen that are completely out of our control and 9 times out of 10 the things that are out of our control are things that drive us crazy, less focused, less motivated, less inspired, less ambitious, because we are concerned about the things we cannot control.

"I remind myself daily that some things are what they are. I can only focus on the things I can control. And the things I can control are the things that bring me happiness and maintain my level of peace. That will always be the mantra that shapes my life."

How she defines success:

"I define success by progression. I don't define my success by the level of what it looks like in a way that it shaped around material things. As long as I'm doing better than I've done and steps ahead of where I started, then I know I am succeeding. As long as I can see that there are changes that are continuously happening in my life for the better and those changes are happening as a direct result of the work that I put in, then I know I am being successful. As long as I can live off of my passion and I can feed my child off of my work and my livelihood, then I know I am succeeding. As long as I am not reverting or moving backwards, then I know I am succeeding."

What she wants her mentor in her head to know about how they've shaped her journey:

"The mentor in my head has become my mentor in real life and I am so fortunate. If I had to tell her how she's shaped my journey, I would say she has shown me that as a female, you can be assertive and direct while also being friendly and still not taking any shit and still be respected. I would tell her that where she started and where she is now has been motivation for the simple fact that there was nothing that kept her where she was. She was able to pivot even when she and her family were defamed and she was able to grow something so massive and phenomenal that they will be remembered for lifetimes after they are gone. She's shaped my journey simply because her mindset and ambition are unmatched. She is not to be outdone or outworked and that attitude has helped to shape a legacy."

Renae Bluitt

Photo Courtesy of Renae Bluitt

Renae Bluitt
Filmmaker, Storyteller & PR Consultant
New York City, NY

Her mentor in her head & why she chose them:

"My mentor in my head is none other than the brilliant and beautiful Oprah Winfrey. It's the tenacity and stick-to-it-iveness for me! She started from very humble beginnings, picked herself up from the bottom and ran a successful talk show, all while just being herself (unapologetically), for almost three whole decades. She's built a media empire, including her own television network, where she uses her platform to enlighten and empower people globally, all while lifting as she climbs. What's not to love about this woman?"

What she's learned from their triumphs:

"'The surest way to bring goodness to yourself is to make it your intention to do good for somebody else.' - Oprah Winfrey

"So many people launch businesses and are only in it for themselves. We have to think about how our work will fill voids that exist and how we will help others. Oprah was committed to being of service to the world while building a profitable/sustainable business for herself. She set out to help others and reaped countless rewards and blessings in return."

What she's learned from their trials:

"'Turn your wounds into wisdom.' - Oprah Winfrey

"There's truly no escaping life's challenges. To appreciate the light, we must experience the dark. We can bask in the sunshine because we've endured the rain. Building a business can be the most gratifying, yet most challenging thing some of us will ever experience in life. When we're faced with negative circumstances, we have to be able to turn them into positives. There are so many beautiful lessons to learn from our mistakes."

Advice she would give to a woman that may think of her as the mentor in their head:

"I would tell her to trust the process and enjoy the journey. I spent so much time eagerly looking towards the next milestone in my life and career when I was younger.

"As I mature, I'm realizing how important it is to be present and enjoy this current chapter of life instead of rushing to get to the next. Our time here is so fleeting, we have to embrace where we are on our journeys to fully appreciate what's ahead."

A mantra that shapes her life:

"My first and only tattoo says 'do what you love' and I take this very seriously. When presented with an opportunity or experience, I stop and think about the feeling it evokes. If it's not a 'hell yes' moment for me, it's more than likely a 'no'. I'm not here for lukewarm experiences."

How she defines success:

"My definition of success has changed quite a bit over the years as I've evolved personally. Right now, success is a few things for me: Doing what I love while being of service to my community; the financial freedom to say 'no, thank you' to opportunities I'm not interested in exploring; the ability to make work optional. I look forward to taking time away from work as I see fit without feeling like I'm missing something.

"What's for me is for me, and no one else can claim a blessing that has my name on it."

What she wants her mentor in her head to know about how they've shaped her journey:

"I'd like Oprah to know that she gives this little brown girl from Indiana permission to think big. She's shown me that I can be multi-passionate and focused at the same time. Oprah shares her many gifts with the world while staying true to who she is at her core. I strive to be that comfortable in my own skin some day."

Featured image courtesy of the interviewees

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.


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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