As the senior member of our Formation & Vocation team I have been blessed to have had many amazing mentors over the years. After reading Bronwyn’s blog I spent time this week reflecting on those mentors who have come and gone in my life. How their willingness to share their wisdom has challenged me, comforted me, encouraged and delighted me. And how these gifts continue to this day to impact all aspects of my life; professional, politically, familial and spiritually. Although there were many lessons learned a few stand out and still continue to inform who I am.
In the mid seventies I had fast tracked into a corporate position, which put me close to the top of the executive ladder. I was prepared for the work, but not for the accepted industry dominated culture of white males over the age of 50 holding positions of power. This was my first lesson about personal and positional power. Fortunately, Mr. Ernest Brown an Executive Vice President took interest in me and afforded to me a safe place to vent and exhale when the pressure of having my abilities challenged because of my gender put me on the brink of public tears. This was an industry like as in baseball, as Tom Hanks said in the movie A league of their own. “There’s no crying in Baseball.”
One particular time when I was sharing with Mr. Brown my most recent tale of woe, about how unjust the system was (and he agreed it was) he said I had a choice; I could give up or fight for change. If I gave up I was on my own, if I fought he was behind me all the way. Why did I fight? Why were his words so significant and powerful? I respected and trusted him and admired his deep devotion to his Christian faith. For he himself lived what he “preached”. Mr. Brown had fought a far greater challenge than I had before me. As a bright young black man of sixteen when he first started working for this very same company, because of the color of his skin he was not allowed to eat lunch in the same restaurant as his co-workers. Mr. Brown had a mentor (the Jewish owner of the company, who after young Ernest started working for him began having lunch brought in) who did for him that which Mr. Brown was promising to do for me. His only condition was that I would commit myself always to fight for justice and that I would never use my station in life as an excuse not to use to the fullest the gifts God has blessed me with.
I have learned from him exactly what Bronwynis encouraging us all to do as “a community faith we are called to live in a way that invites those we seek to mentor to live with intentionality, to practice their agency with greater discernment.” We are called to share from generation to generation the wisdom that we learn along the way. When I reflect on a Jewish owner in the 1950’s mentoring a Black man who mentors a white women in the 70’s I hope that in some small way I have continued to mentor in a way which honors Mr. Brown. I know that in my years of mentoring others the true blessing has been the deepening of my own faith life in ways that I have yet to realize.