By: Elisabet Medina
When you are young, the world is different. Words are heavier, the words have ripple effects in your life. I can still remember the high school teachers and youth pastors who talked me down from the proverbial and literal edge of teenage angst. Countless adults told me that I could change the world, that I could make a difference, that my life had significance.
I still remember the blunt conversation a teacher had with me, that I was a smart kid but that my grades were mediocre and if I ever wanted to get anywhere I had to work twice as hard because I was a young Latina. It is almost as if the belief that teachers had in me during middle and high school had willed me on through to college. I remember it was a college counselor that told me to apply for a scholarship to grad school. No one in my family had done this before. I felt lucky just to have made it through undergrad, I never thought that I would have a masters.
As a social worker, I have always had interns; young people that I am willing to take under my wing. I want them to see that someone that looks like them can be a leader. Representation matters, and for young people to see women of color as managers, principals, board presidents; opens up infinite doors of possibility.
Mentorship is everything. Even today, I make it a point to be mentored by someone. Whether our conversation is about career and dealing with microaggressions in the workplace or me spilling my guts about an idea that won’t let me go. We always need someone who has been there, right at the spot where we are standing and can guide our spirits to where they need to go.
Likewise, as we ascend and grow in our field, ask who am I taking with me? How am I empowering and pouring into the lives of young people around me? Whether it’s a church youth group, mentoring of a foster youth, a niece, or an intern: beneath that bravado there’s a soul longing to be seen and believed in.
Young people need to hear that they are loved, that they matter, and most importantly that they are not alone. I have seen young women be exploited, suffer violence and even take their own life under the powerful belief that they are worthless. The opposite is the truth, young people are more valuable than words can express and whatever tragedy they have experienced is not the end but only the beginning of their story. Take time today for a young person, be the mentor you wish you had when you were younger. You won’t soon forget it and neither will they.