A mentor can provide accountability, encouragement, and constructive feedback throughout your career. And for a woman of color, a mentor can open doors that might otherwise be closed. Unlock Her Potential is an innovative mentorship program connecting women of color with mentors in the entertainment industry. Mentees are promised one hour each month for an entire year with mentors who share their experiences, insights and advice. And in case you were wondering, Unlock Her Potential’s roster of mentors is nothing short of an all-star lineup of influencers across media, music, television and film, including Ileana Diez, Head of Marketing at Roc Nation, comedian and television host W. Kamau Bell and our own Editor in Chief Vanessa K. DeLuca. We spoke with Unlock Her Potential’s founder and biggest cheerleader, Sophia Chang, about her program and the importance of mentorship.
Born and raised in Vancouver, Chang is a child of Korean immigrants. But as she came of age in the 1970s, she says she struggled with her identity. “I was a yellow girl in a white world who wanted to be white,” she said. It was “The Message,” the classic conscious hip-hop track by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, that turned Chang’s world upside down and made her head to New York City in 1987. Once there, Chang immersed herself in hip-hop culture and found her place in the music industry. As an A&R rep, she’s managed well-known artists, including Q-Tip, Rafael Saadiq, and RZA and GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, earning herself the title of the first Asian woman in hip-hop.
Chang writes candidly about her time in the business in her memoir, “The Baddest Bitch in the Room.” And she’s quick to give props to veteran entertainment executive Michael Ostin, her mentor for 35 years, for helping her navigate the industry. But while talking to other women of color, Chang realized her experience was unique and that she needed to do something about it. In 2020, Chang launched Unlock Her Potential. And by tapping into her network of entertainment A-listers, she secured over 100 mentors in less than 72 hours.
The program lets participants take advantage of the vast knowledge her mentors bring to the table. “Because I’ve managed so much talent, I understood that for most of the mentors, their greatest asset is time.” But she adds that the relationship is about professional guidance only. “I don’t give a shit if your boyfriend ghosted you. All of your personal problems stay somewhere else.” Mentors should not be solicited for pitches, letters of recommendation or job offers. But Chang says those things often happen organically.
Going into its third year, Unlock Her Potential is opening applications for a new class of mentees on August 1 with over 40 amazing new mentors. And Chang encourages people at all stages of their career to apply. In fact, many of her mentees are women looking to pivot into new career fields. “I wrote my first screenplay at 54 and my memoir at 50. You couldn’t have told me at 50 that I didn’t deserve a mentor,” she said.
As she reflects on how far her program has come, Chang says she knows that the best is yet to come. “Unlock Her Potential is the biggest job I have,” she said. “And other than my children, it will be my greatest legacy.”
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