The First Annual Over My Shoulder Foundation flagship event, Designing the Next Generation, was an incredible evening with a packed audience mesmerized by speakers and musicians explaining their mentoring experiences and how their lives were changed by mentoring. Justin Locke, who wrote an Over My Shoulder Foundation story about Mentoring in the Boston Pops Orchestra, attended Designing the Next Generation on June 18 and shares his thoughts here. Soon we’ll give you even more details about the amazing evening!
-Dawn Carroll, Over My Shoulder Foundation Co-Founder and Executive Director
When I was first introduced to Dawn Carroll and her “Over My Shoulder” mentoring foundation, I confess I was somewhat underwhelmed. As near as I could tell, the message and mission was something like “mentoring is good.” Well, duh, I said. Isn’t that obvious?
Well, actually. . . it isn’t.
While we all understand and agree that mentoring is a good thing, what is not so obvious is just how much anti-mentoring is going on out there. In the early 20th century, universal compulsory education meant that most kids were taken out of their family and social environments, to be taught generic skills in large groups, taught by government employees. The concept of apprenticeships virtually disappeared, at least during the day. Later on, as more families became single parent or 2-income, kids were again left on their own or in large supervised groups.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that no matter how good or bad a school or a teacher is, the number one factor in determining academic success is the presence or absence of an interested parental figure. Kids who are supported by interested adult always do better than those who are not, at every socio-economic level. This is what mentoring is. It’s putting “interested parental figures” back into a system that tends to systematically remove them. And the evening featured several speakers who shared amazing stories of doing just that.
One featured speaker was Stephen Powell, the Executive Director of Mentoring USA. He has that extraordinarily charismatic presence, of someone who truly loves their work. I am very glad he is not a used car salesman, because I would have driven out of the event in a 97 Buick. One thing he talked about in his organization is “on-site mentoring,” where adults from a community come to a given location to share their wisdom and experience. He pointed out that many volunteer mentors come in to do it “just for today” and then quickly become regular mentors. As he put it so succinctly, “We don’t recruit. We remind.” He told stories of men teaching boys basic items like how to tie a necktie. Not something you’ll find on the SAT, but just as essential to success in life.
Another guest speaker was Ted Fujimoto, Founder of The Right to Succeed Foundation http://www.righttosucceed.org/. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that this guy may be one of the most influential people in the United States today. I talk a lot about how public education should be changed, but this guy is actually doing it. He carries an Ipad with a complete powerpoint presentation of his program, where he has, in 500 schools no less, completely altered the educational system. The numbers are astonishing: 150% improvement in test scores, 90% graduation rates (these, in previously “failed” institutions). This is all done, not by training the teachers or by “raising standards,” but by challenging the kids to do real world projects, in which they must acquire both academic skills and “people skills” . . . On the job training as it were. And of course, it invites community involvement . . . “mentoring” . . . rather than turning it away. The numbers are just a small part of the bigger picture of true fundamental change.
As part of his new approach, Ted talked about developing “social capital.” This is a pragmatic, common sense approach to success in life, of understanding that who ya know is just as important as what ya know. His program placed tremendous emphasis on “mentoring” in terms of kids networking with future employers, as well as development of managerial skills, something that is actually suppressed in the standard industrial-era educational model. Keep your eye on this guy, he’s going places.
The main speaker for the evening was Attorney Richard Dyer, an astonishing story of individual triumph over difficult circumstance. One could not help but be struck by the odd circumstance, that there we were in the super posh Liberty Hotel in Downtown Boston, converted from the old condemned Charles Street prison, and we were listening to a guest speaker who was once an inmate therein. He told an amazing story of someone who transcended “the system,” of finding individuals (including guest of honor Gov. Michael Dukakis) who bucked the bureaucratic red tape, taking a convicted felon and turning him into a successful attorney . . . one who can now advocate for clients with a rare depth of perspective on the juvenile justice system. It would be hard to not be inspired by someone who was able to overcome so many obstacles.
Throughout the evening the point was repeatedly made: Individuals, even those who seem to be totally lost, can be transformed and remade by the efforts of other individuals, even when large institutions have failed them. If that weren’t enough, the evening included the star presence and singing of the great Patti Austin, with additional performances by Robin Lane, Julie Silver, and Charlie Farren.
-Written by Justin Locke: Author, Speaker and Over My Shoulder Foundation Mentorologist!