Today’s post is written by Over My Shoulder Foundation Intern Sarah Gross, who is currently a student a UC Davis.
The month of February reserves a special place in the year to remember the resounding impact of African Americans through the history of the United States. Black history recalls the legal and social tensions for race equality and recognizes contributions made by black poets, musicians, and political activists. We commemorate the triumphs and endeavors of these people because they inspire us.
The inspiration that notable figures in Black History emanate is a non-tangible part of their legacy to the people of America. As we celebrate, we are inspired towards forgiveness and compassion, perseverance and tolerance. Most of all, we are inspired towards caring and helping others. As we incorporate these values into our lives this month, we recognize the trait that many black figures share: the capacity to be a mentor.
What defines a mentor is different for everyone, for mentoring is the subjective effort to better the life of another person. In the words of poet, author, and activist Maya Angelou, “to be a mentor, and an effective one, one must care.” Caring opens the heart to the needs of others. Through her words and actions, Dr. Angelou mentors countless individuals by caring, the essence of which is to give hope. The most precious and valuable of gifts, hope is a “rainbow in the clouds” to those who live in gloom. When people can inspire one another, spreading love and compassion to those who need it most, mentoring becomes an important way of giving hope and leading individuals to their true potential.
The concept of a mentor may be understood in terms of a teacher and a student. The teacher helps the student to develop his or her ideas, caring for that student and providing hope and encouragement along his or her way to success. The teacher/student mentoring relationship applies across a broad spectrum, as the teacher may be an inspirational social figure with citizens of a community as the students. The teacher need not know his or her students personally, but that does not lessen the teacher’s capacity to connect with the students on a personal level. Inspirational figures, like Maya Angelou, abound throughout black history as teachers whose students are those who are inspired and in turn inspire others to right wrongs and make the world a more wholesome, kinder place. Maya Angelou’s poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” communicates the importance of the teacher/student relationship to describe mentoring as a coming together to surmount difficulty and spread hope in the world:
I say, clap hands and let’s come together in this meeting ground,
I say, clap hands and let’s deal with each other with love,
I say, clap hands and let us get from the low road of indifference,
Clap hands, let us come together and reveal our hearts,
Let us come together and revise our spirits,
Let us come together and cleanse our souls,
Clap hands, let’s leave the preening
And stop impostering our own history.
Clap hands, call the spirits back from the ledge,
Clap hands, let us invite joy into our conversation,
Courtesy into our bedrooms,
Gentleness into our kitchen,
Care into our nursery.
This excerpt advocates peace instead of strife, love instead of hate. Maya Angelou read the poem in its entirety at the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. The words reflect the ideology behind the March: “to reconcile [blacks’]spiritual inner beings and to redirect…focus to developing our communities, strengthening our families, working to uphold and protect our civil and human rights, and empowering ourselves through the Spirit of God.” On this day in history, people came together to clap hands and bolster the community with hope for a better day, a better month, a better future. As a leading inspirational figure, Angelou stood before the many people in Washington, D.C. as a mentor. As a teacher, Angelou connected with her students on a personal level by sharing in, and encouraging, their hopes and dreams, and thus October 16, 1995 became a day of social togetherness for change through the power of her words.
The Million Man March, and Maya Angelou’s role as a mentor, serves as a paradigm example of the importance of Black History Month. We not only celebrate black history, but we celebrate the messages it carries. We are inspired by the positive developments in equality and community that blossom through black history, and we can continue to inspire by mentoring.
 Farrakhan, Louis. Afro – American Red Star. Washington, D.C.: Sep 30, 1995. p. A5