In honor of Black History Month, we will be highlighting different perspectives on mentoring from community leaders across Massachusetts. Today's perspective comes from Denise Cogman, executive director of Springfield School Volunteers.
Why do you believe mentoring is important?
I believe mentoring is important because it is essential to the preservation of society. That sounds like a strong statement, but where would many of us be had there not been someone there to light our pathway, to test out the road in front of us and warn us of the curves and potholes ahead?
There is always going to be something that is new to us and someone who has experience with that something who can guide us along the way. That something might be very specific, like applying for college or a job, or it could be more general, like making it through the treacherous middle school years without too many bumps and bruises. We all know or have heard of someone who was headed down the wrong path or who was simply born at what many would call a disadvantage. When there is a turning point in those stories, the change often has something to do with a mentor. Mentoring at its best is a mutually beneficial relationship that provides a trusted friend and guide to a person in need of such and an opportunity for a person who is able to pay it forward.
Who are some of your mentors and what impact did those individuals have on your life?
A mentor often sees more potential in us than we see in ourselves, which pushes us to be the best version of ourselves. My mentors did just that for me. My mother has always believed that I could do anything that I put my mind to, so I have tried to prove her right. My high school Spanish teacher would ignore me if I spoke to him in English and said I’d know I was bilingual when I dreamed in Spanish. I don’t usually remember my dreams, but when I received an email last year from someone interested in volunteering who wondered if I was his student many years ago, (his words, not mine; it hasn’t been that many years) I was proud that I was able to respond to his email in Spanish. I had an English professor in college who made me re-write my papers over and over again, but her comments always ended with, ‘I know you can do better.’ I don’t remember her name, but ever since then, whenever I write anything, I re-read and edit until I’m sure I’m presenting my best.
The mentor who probably had the biggest impact on my professional life is the late Dr. Peter Hess. He may have never seen himself as my mentor, but I can’t count the times I still think, ‘what would Peter do?’ or ‘what would Peter suggest?’ Peter saw me as a leader long before I ever saw that in myself. He gently guided me through the many stages of my career at SSV, suggesting, but never telling; nudging, but never pushing; there for me when I needed him, but always willing to wait on the sidelines until I yelled for help. With the exception of my mother, none of the mentors I mentioned are a part of my life anymore, but they are all a part of me. That’s why I believe mentoring is important, because even when they don’t know it, even when they’re no longer right there with you, mentors change lives.
To learn how you can get involved, visit www.mentorsofcolor.org.