blank'/> A LITTLE BIT OF LACQUER: The Power of Mentorship

January 22, 2015

The Power of Mentorship

Me with some of my high school students I work with in one of many mentoring programs at Harvard Medical School. 

How many of you follow Humans of New York? It is one of my favorite pages for making the world feel a little less distant, for reminding me to always have empathy, and a constant reinforcement that you truly just never know what a person has been/is going through!

Today something really touching happened there - Brandon started a fund to send a predominantly black and hispanic classroom from one of the worst neighborhoods in the city to Harvard. A trip intended to expand their horizons beyond the neighborhood they know and the "occupations" they observe. Amazing! Of course there are those who are more negative, one person even commented, "That's just a waste of time, don't want to be rude but tbh these kids will never make it to any ivy league, let alone universities." 

People like this obviously don't matter, because within an hour of posting this Brandon had already raised an astonishing $130,000 for the cause. But I still want to address the naysayers (and inspire some of you, as many have asked for more of my "story") and let you know what mentoring can actually accomplish. 

I owe everything to mentoring. 

I grew up in a neighborhood full of gang bangers and drug dealers. My brother and I rode our bicycles around our tiny driveway in circles because our parents wouldn't let us ride on our street. I lost cousins to gang violence and thought that if I reached the age 18 still alive, not in jail, and without a baby, well that would be a cause for celebration. Because where we came from, not many people did. 

My parents were incredibly hard workers, and instilled in me an appreciation for hard work. I spent most of my time growing up with my grandparents, because my parents were always working. (Something I'm incredibly thankful for today - my grandparents couldn't speak any English, so living with them I became fluent in Spanish). But right around the time of adolescence, kids feel they have to prove themselves, and I wasn't immune to that. In school we'd get into fights or people would get jumped because of a look, or because a girl had long hair, or was pretty, or anything really. You didn't want to be the only one without someone having your back, so by freshman year of high school I had joined a gang. I was hanging out after school getting into trouble and nearly failing all of my classes. Except for biology. 

My biology teacher liked to show us things on the microscope, and as a visual learner, those things just sort of stuck with me even if I didn't do the homework. I aced a practical exam that many of the students had trouble with. My biology teacher pulled me aside and spoke with me regularly. "Laura, what are you doing? You're smart, you can make something of yourself! You could be a doctor if you wanted! None of these kids you're hanging with now care about your future or theirs - all they see is the right now." 

And he was right. In neighborhoods like ours, it's hard to think about the future, or to plan very far in advance and wait for delayed gratification. But his words stuck with me and I listened to him - I left those friends behind and immersed myself in school, especially science. I ended up with a full-tuition scholarship to Smith College - they offer one scholarship to a young woman from Springfield Public Schools, and through some act of fate that young woman was me. At Smith, I was recruited into a mentoring program called AEMES Scholars - Achieving Excellence in Math, Engineering, and Sciences. Through this program I got matched with a mentor and was paid to work in their lab doing research - research that I did all four years of college, that allowed me to travel to national meetings and present my work and eventually write and publish a first-author paper. My mentor believed in me and trusted me like no one else did. He networked for me, wrote letters of recommendation for me, stuck his neck out for me. And through the work he allowed me to do and the confidence I gained through that, I added more and more to my CV and eventually wound up here at Harvard Medical School.

Here at Harvard I have found more mentors. Women who have the careers I envision myself having, boss ladies who still take time during their breaks to call and check in on their kids, old men who've seen it all and then some. All of these mentors have molded me into the person I am today. 

I still see the news from back home now and then and hear about my old crew from my early high school days. They're living in the same projects and doing a whole lot of nothing; some of them are dead, many of them in prison, and some just fell off the map. And sometimes I feel guilty for "making it." Guilty for the luck I had in having a mentor, guilty because that so easily could have been me. I know how powerful a mentor can be, and because of that, I now serve as a mentor. It's my duty to try and bring up as many kids as I can with me. Because all they need to see is that the world is a bigger place than their hood, that people who look like them and came from places like them made lives for themselves, and most of all that people believe in them. If you're reading this and wondering if you can make it, know that you can, and I believe in you.

Anyway - man what is that, like 3 deep posts in a row!?! 
I promise tomorrow I'll post a regular old outfit post! ;)

19 comments:

  1. I adore your inspiration posts because it's always nice to hear about how someone "made it" to where they are now. I know we are all still growing and that we really don't ever totally "make it" but it is nice to see how bloggers' backgrounds led them to where they are today. Thank you for sharing :)

    Julia
    this sojourner

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  2. oh my! you've just inspired me with this post! I've been procrastinating for months on becoming a mentor. i reached out to an organization months ago and never followed through but now is the time. Thank you.

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  3. You speak the truth darling. Absolute truth. I always love to hear your story, and it's so inspiring for us to reach out and help other or find a mentor for ourselves.

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  4. Thank you so much for this post. I can't even begin to describe just how much I needed to read something like this.

    And, in general, thank you for your helpful and inspirational posts. It's wonderful that you're using your blog as a platform to help others. If your posts are any indication of the type of mentor you are, I would've loved to have you as my mentor now.

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  5. This is beyond inspirational. All props to you, go girl!!

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  6. Thank you for sharing your story!! You have no idea how inspirational you are.

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  7. Great story ! So empowering ! You're such an inspiration

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  8. I love this post, you're the kind of person people can look up too. Especially young women of color. It's amazing what you're doing and that you want to help others see their potential as well.

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  9. Wow, thanks for sharing! I loved this story.

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  10. Just saw your profile pic on my pinterest. You are 1 of my Inspiration, both in career and life. Continue to be the great person you are

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  11. That was a post I definitely needed to read. I have all these ideas on things I want to do and I have more than one passion but some people make it seem as if I can't do both but I believe I can and because of that I will. You inspire me and so many others which is why we reach to out to you. Thanks for being there!

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  12. I've been following you for YEARS and I've always assumed you were just this super perfect/pretty/lucky/smart girl who just floated into Harvard and, like a Disney Princess, was won over by an educated (and fine!) man (now husband) and had a beautiful (and happy!) child and the world just never opposed anything you ever wanted or did. While some parts of that may be true, I know the pictures you share are worth a thousand words but THESE WORDS you just wrote could never be captured by such. That story had to be TOLD and I'm glad you shared it because I now understand the spirit behind these beautiful pics. That spirit belongs to a warrior who was handed nothing, but is now beginning to reap the benefits of many years of relentless committed work for a goal of a purposeful life. Congratulations, Laura. And thank you for the perspective shift!

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  13. Laura, thanks a bunch for being so transparent with the most intimate moments in your life. It touches young girls like me and reminds me that there is always a way. I can't thank you enough for inspiring me with your hardwork and determination.

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  14. I can definitely relate with the bullying. I was bullied in middle school and high school for wearing a weave! Yes, a weave! I wore one because I have a common disorder called trichotillomania. So, like you said, people are fighting a battle that most can't see. So the girls who were so jealous of me didn't know how much I wish I had long, flowing, real hair as much as they did. Picked me on me so much for it that I am still trying to break down my defensive walls to this day. Luckily, my mom moved from Chicago so it could've been a lot worse (With the gang violence and all), but I am so glad that God brought that teacher in your life. You're such a beautiful person, and I hope to one day be as great!

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  15. You have the life I always envisioned myself to have... :( but you're inspiring me to do well in school and hopefully enter a good medical school. thank you so much!

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  16. Hi Laura, I love love love your blog.
    I am currently studying in med school and I really want to find a mentor, but I honestly don't know how! Do you have any tips? Thank you!

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  17. This website was... how do I say it? Relevant!! Finally I have found something which helped me. Kudos!

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