At my daughter’s elementary school, they have a pretty cool program that has the potential to pay dividends far down the road. When you get to fifth grade, you are paired with a kindergarten buddy, and every few days during your fifth-grade year, you and your buddy get to hang out and do projects together. For fifth-graders, it teaches them responsibility and empathy and gives you a built-in person to help guide and show the ropes, and for the kindergarteners, it gives them somebody to look up to and, if both of them so chose, a mentor-mentee relationship for life.
When my daughter was in kindergarten, she was through the roof about her fifth-grade buddy, and though they aren’t in touch now, she still speaks fondly of the experience; so much so that being assigned a buddy was the thing she was looking forward to most about fifth grade. She adores her little buddy and cannot wait until the days she gets to hang with her little mentee. Knowing my kid, her buddy will be her friend for life.
I didn’t have a mentor growing up. In college, while I had mentors, I didn’t have one in the traditional sense, either. I didn’t have anybody who was older than me who served to help guide my decision-making to help me achieve professional or personal goals. Nope, my homies—my boys I entered Morehouse College with along with my homie, who is the reason I even went to Morehouse—all served as “mentors” by helping me navigate both my own personal and professional successes, even though life was a great unknown for us all. Not for nothing, one of my boys told me back in the ’90s that I’d probably make a living writing my opinions down or something. Not sure why he never played the lottery because that man was prescient as shit regarding my career.
I can’t downplay the impact that going to an HBCU—and specifically Morehouse—had on both my esteem and access to other like-minded individuals who were going somewhere, even if we’re all figuring it out together. Fortunately, I don’t think at all about what life could have looked like if I had a mentor or even somebody older with experience that I could reach out to about things. Or somebody to even slide me some money during those times when $20 could last me a month.
But knowing what I know now, the opportunity to be that kind of person for somebody else is an opportunity and challenge I’m always willing to take on. Maybe every student nowadays comes in and meets a group of peers (my group is like 15 people strong, spans both Morehouse and Spelman and now includes spouses; and every time we meet up, it always feels like the first time) who helps them traverse life or has a mentor. But I’d be willing to bet that there are lots of students who also don’t know how to get a mentor. Or how to network in a manner that fosters the kind of relationship that puts an older alum simply a phone call away. Further, what student can’t use more resources?
On the other side, I’ll bet there are lots of alumni of schools who want to connect with students and be a positive guiding force, helping to create a pipeline of success from undergrad into the real world and life. But outside of alumni associations and random interactions, there are very few times you can gain a mentee or connection with ease. Homecoming is the one time for most of us that puts alumni and current students in close proximity in a natural and organic way.
Enter the Homecoming Challenge. What started out as a simple means of creating connections has become a movement. Spelman College alumna Dana Davenport and Morehouse College alumnus Chris Evans took an idea and turned into a charge and challenge. As their motto states, when you go back, give back. They asked folks to put some money and a card in an envelope and go back to their freshman dorm and basically hand over an opportunity and some much needed financial assistance to the next generation of students coming up in a familiar environment. They filmed the interactions (where possible) and sparked an interest in others to do the same.
How cool would it have been if anybody who had stayed in White Hall 126 (my freshman dorm and room number) had stopped by and handed me $20 and a phone number to call if I ever had any questions about college and life? Pretty cool, is what I think. Dana and Chris have taken what I’d hope many folks already do and leveled it up into a concerted effort that they take from school to school, particularly HBCUs (as graduates of HBCUs, it’s only natural). I’ve already grabbed a bunch of business cards in anticipation of SpelHouse’s 2019 Homecoming during the last weekend of October.
With HBCU homecoming season in full swing, and I imagine PWI homecoming season (is that a thing? No shade, I really don’t know), too, now is the perfect time if you’re heading back to your alma mater to kick it to also make a difference. My freshman dorm is now the ROTC dorm on campus, so I don’t think I can even get in, but somebody’s gonna catch this crips $20 (or maybe more) and some business cards. And hopefully, I am able to help a Morehouse student navigate his own experience, if need be. Otherwise, I’ll make it known to be considered as a resource if need be, which is probably the best gift that you can give (along with donating to your school, especially at HBCUs) as an alum.
I’m taking the Homecoming Challenge.
What about you?