[box]Songwriter/Designer Dawn Carroll wrote the song Over My Shoulder with Charlie Farren, Brynn Arens and Barry Orms. It was first sung as a duet sung by Grammy Award winning singing legend Patti Austin and the then 13-year old Lianna Gutierrez who is generating an amazing buzz as a protégé and mentee of Patti Austin. Dawn is leading the Over My Shoulder Project, a national mentoring initiative that uses music to raise awareness about the impact of mentoring both cross-culturally and cross-generationally.[/box]

Many people why I created the Over My Shoulder Project, so here is my story. It is one of hope, courage and transformation. If you are inspired by my story I believe that you will continue to be inspired if you get involved in the Over My Shoulder Project with me, GRAMMY® Award winning singing legend Patti Austin, American television writer and producer Norman Lear and countless others who believe in the power of music to raise awareness about the impact of mentoring both cross-culturally and cross-generationally.

There comes a time in life when the term “complicated” takes on an entirely new meaning. One day, even the most powerful among us wake up and discover they are no longer fearless. It is the moment in which you may lose your focus, your sense of worth, or have a sense that you cannot move past the challenges before you.

This is when the beauty of divine intervention, rich with guidance, friendship and the talents and imagination of a mentor becomes an essential ingredient for inspiration; maybe even for survival. This is the genesis, for some, of a desperate search to connect with someone – anyone – who can help move negative or challenging thoughts into a new and brighter light, or simply help you recalibrate and reconnect with the things that matter. This fascinating and provocative moment is when your goals take precedent over any opposition, the moment when you decide if you will allow your dreams to walk away, or, if you will grab on with both hands and walk within them. This describes my personal experience, and how I finally found my true purpose as an advocate for mentoring.

In March of 2009, I knew the time had come to immediately change what was not working in my life. Yet, even as an adult, I did not know how to accomplish that transformation. If I didn’t make positive changes quickly, unwelcome ones would continue to find me. Every thought of moving in a different direction was scary, and overwhelming. Seemingly negative forces taunted me. The wolves were at the door and vultures circled above, all just waiting for me to trip one more time so they could prove to me that I couldn’t make it on my own.

My dear friend and former employer, Barry Orms, came to the rescue. He broke through the negativity and fear I had built as a barricade against change and movement, and calmed my inner chaos with a life-saving prescription of encouragement; a simple reminder that my dreams – though not yet realized – were alive and well. His compliments were straightforward, yet powerful enough to penetrate my doubts, and he offered me an opportunity that changed my life and sent me on a wild adventure. Barry asked me to write for him. He needed age-appropriate lyrics for Lianna Gutierrez, a new singer he was managing.

Initially, I found this slightly amusing as I was in the process of writing a gory memoir titled, One Less Jack. It was about my unsuccessful mentoring of a drug-addicted friend who had been killed violently. How could I clean up my corroded thoughts and write for a pure and innocent little girl?

The answer was in…hope. Whenever I stared into the eyes of a child there was a sense of hope that even I – enmeshed as I was in a particularly hopeless state – couldn’t deny. When I heard Lianna’s voice I became determined to take Barry’s challenge to heart, and with the assistance of my extraordinary niece, I began to write.

Initially, the subject matter was a bit of a riddle. What do 13-year-olds know? How did they see, hear and experience their world? I realized that I had no memory of being that age, and it was my niece who came to the rescue. It was she who beautifully elucidated her observations on life, and managed to reverse my hardened and forgotten spirit of youth. Her words and encouragement would lead to a complete recovery of my younger self, along with an avenging state-of-mind: I was not going down and I would not fail. It was my niece who reminded me that life was neither always wicked nor cruel. This young girl looked up to me as a mentor, and I would let her down. I had to – and would – rediscover my sense of hope.

With this young girl’s help, I wrote from as many optimistic and buoyant angles as I possibly could. I wrote about giving back, doing the right thing, a willingness to right the wrongs I saw around me. Within me rose the desire to write messages that empowered, messages that were antidotes to anger and that spoke of forgiveness. This inner reflection became the main ingredient of a magical recipe for a little song called Over My Shoulder.

While it is truth that I wrote the lyrics within 30 minutes, the overwhelming reality is that these words had been stewing within me for more than 20 years. Over My Shoulder captures and honors a story I heard all those years ago…the amazing story of the life of Patti Austin.

Patti Austin was born with an enormous talent that was discovered when she was just four years old, but it was the guidance of her legendary team of mentors that nurtured her toward greatness. I marveled as I thought about how her life might have been different, or if we would even know of her gifts, had she not met her amazing mentors, Quincy Jones and Dinah Washington.

We are all born with certain skills and abilities, yet not many of us have the opportunity to be heard, or seen, or read. What more could a person become if someone wise was watching and helping? What might it be like to look over the shoulder of your great success and see the next you; as perhaps Patti did when she saw little Lianna about to burst onto the scene.

I could hear Patti say, ‘nothing bad will occur while you are under my watch,’ and this song became a true testament to the real life relationship of Patti’s mentoring and Lianna’s learning. It is a continuing story of hope, courage and transformation and I am dedicated to working on the Over My Shoulder Project as it grows into a national mentoring initiative that changes lives. I hope you will join us.

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