As a young Black girl, I have had many mentors who literally paved the way for me. It was their love (sometimes tough), encouragement, and prayers that brought me to where I am today. Now, as a young Black professional woman, I pay it forward by mentoring other young Black girls in my community. I have been recently assigned to a new mentee, and she is absolutely the sweetest little girl ever!
The mentoring organization that I am part of is quite interesting. When I attended the first orientation, not only was I the only Black woman there, but I was also the only person who was not over 40. And I thought to myself, "where are all the young adults?" It was a bunch of white, middle-aged, retired women looking for something to do in their free time (their words, not mine). That's cool and all, but when it comes to mentoring, I think matching is very important. That is, the mentor and mentee should share similar goals, identities, values, etc.
When I first received an email regarding my new assignment of mentoring this little girl, I was super excited, but I was also like "she better not be white" simply because...I may not fully understand the experiences of little white girls the way I can for little black girls. And white folks (as well as some folks of color) who would see my statement as problematic are always quick to say "I don't see color," but unfortunately, the system does. And to say that you don't see color is just ignorant and dangerous. I said what I said: I don't feel like I can be the best mentor to little white girls, and it isn't fair to them or me.
Anyways, along with that email, the director also described the child as having serious behavioral issues, being disruptive, and hard to handle. She had a mentor before me, but that did not work out. The day comes for me to meet my mentee; to meet this behavioral-issues-having, disruptive, hard-to-handle little girl. When the supervisor walked me over to the child's class, she told me that she was giving trouble and the teacher placed her outside of the classroom.
We're walking...we turn the corner...and there she is y'all. A beautiful BLACK 6-year-old girl. The supervisor looked at her and said, "your new mentor is here and she's excited to meet you." She looked up at me and started to cry. My heart. I took her by the hand and we spent about an hour together. I could not believe that this was the girl they described as basically troubled. She's so smart, so patient, and so respectful. Of course things did not work out with her previous mentor. Why? Because she was a white middle-aged woman! Of course these white women are portraying this little Black girl as being troubled because how could this Black kid ever be looked at as good? If she's good and "civilized", how in the world would she ever fit the Angry Black Woman trope? How would she fit the Jezebel trope? The Ghetto trope?
The push-out and criminalization of Black girls in schools has been a serious problem for the longest. We've seen it on television; stories of Black girls being physically harmed by school personnel, placed in handcuffs, and dehumanized in the school setting. When I walked over to the corner and saw my mentee sitting on the floor, I thought to myself, "why are they disrupting her learning like this?" Little Black girls should not be going to school with fear of being re-traumatized by people who are supposed to help them become functioning members of society. Little Black girls should not experience physical and emotional punishments as if their life has no value. Stop labeling little Black girls as loud and disruptive. Stop saying, "I don't see color" but then mistreat little Black girls because they are Black. Recognize your implicit and explicit biases. Don't teach little Black girls if you don't want them to succeed. Little Black girls are precious. They matter. And if you cannot see it, then step aside and allow someone else to guide, protect, and love them.
I encourage you to watch the film, "Push Out: The criminalization of Black girls in schools" and listen to the personal stories and experiences of Black girls.
I also challenge you to find someone younger than you in your community and mentor them. Trust me, they need you.