As a little girl growing up, my comfort level at family reunions, social events, or funeral repasses was not to automatically run off, and venture out to play with the other kids. Nope, as a shy girl, a role I comfortably assumed, I loved to “hang up under” my momma, my grandmother, their friends, and other female family members at these occasions. I loved to hang out, and hear what the “ladies” were talking about. Now trust me, gossiping wasn’t my motive, nor was I allowed to ever really listen to, or participate in, “adult conversation.” But, I instead cherished the comfort of how these women embraced me, asked me questions about school, and my hobbies. I mean, these were much better conversations than that you would get while playing with most kids. And, perhaps what was most amazing was how in these relatively small discussions the topics would range from concerns about their grandchildren, to what was going on in the neighborhood, or some of the world’s most pressing social issues. I loved watching the way they lovingly talked to each other, and laughed at really good, and sometimes crude, jokes, or how they sometimes set someone straight when they may have crossed the line during a disagreement. Little did I know, I was participating in my very first mentoring sessions.
I learned so much from watching these older ladies, like when to just quietly observe or when to speak up. I started to gain so much wisdom from the stories they shared. This affinity to sit at the feet of older women, and glean from them has been a constant theme in my life. I grew up around both of my grandmothers, and all four of my great-grandmothers. And, I was fortunate to grow up at Christ Universal Temple, a church on the south side of Chicago. Better known as CUT, Christ Universal Temple was relatively a large ministry when I was a child, led uniquely by a trailblazing female minister, the Rev. Dr. Johnnie Colemon. With her at the helm of this ministry, women of all ages worshipping at this church “showed up and showed out on Sunday mornings.” They were the persona of every complimentary phrase from the 80’s and 90’s . They were “fly”, “bad”, “dope”, “fresh”, “gorgeous”, “stunners”, “classy”, “sophisticated”, “bold”, “fabulous””, “all that, and a bag of chips.” Whether these women were single, married, a baby boomer, or a child of the depression, they exhibited poise, they were beautiful, they dressed impeccably, and most importantly they treated each other with kindness and divine love. I valued overhearing their stories about caring for their families, holding down great careers and businesses. I loved seeing how they worshipped together, took yoga classes, took trips all over the world, and when all else failed, they line danced. These women, and Rev. Johnnie, for me were truth in action. They were teachable, and valued learning, and through life’s ups and downs, they were always committed to spiritual growth.
After growing up fully immersed in environments like those with women in my family, and participating in activities like the For Women’s Only class at my church, I didn’t think women should operate, or live in any other fashion. They set the mold for me on how to live life to the fullest. And, that’s what I often see in the women I still encounter. I think intergenerational engagement and relationships are so critical to our development as women. And quite frankly, the world would be a better place if women of different ages were committed to learning from one another. And, I also believe the lack of intergenerational relationships is really at the core of a lot of the turmoil and challenges that currently exist in the black community. I’m always seeking ways to exhibit the benefits of intergenerational female relationships in our work in Chicago with Polished Pebbles Girls Mentoring Program.
For instance, with our Second Saturday group mentoring programs, we try to foster an environment for a cross section of women to collaborate and to implement mentoring activities with our girls. These women can represent a wide range of diversity from different social, educational, economic backgrounds, and most importantly different ages. How often I hear women make comments about which type, or age of women, that would be most effective with our girls. I think these perceptions are more myth than truth. From my personal experience, I know that all women, not just younger ones, make great youth mentors; including more mature women.
And we do need each other. Even to this day, I cherish the relationships that I have with women of different generations. I’m inspired to stay committed to a healthy lifestyle every time I see Ruth Johnson run circles around 20 year olds in my gym, and how she won top placement recently in a marathon. Or, how I’m encouraged to celebrate my growth as a businesswoman when I share my trials and tribulations with a pioneering businesswoman like Ruth Cowen of Hair Tenders. As we celebrate National Mentoring Month, we must remember to cherish each and every of our own personal mentoring experiences, and use it fuel how we mentor new generations of young people.