Each year, National Mentoring Month concludes with Thank a Mentor Day—a time to appreciate the people who have guided us. As we celebrate those who help others meet their potential it’s also worth reflecting on how mentoring relationships have shaped our country—from transformational historical figures like Martin Luther King Jr., who the nation honors this month, to innovators who are inspiring us today, like Lizzo, who recently won several Grammy awards.
Dr. King’s voice was influenced by the mentorship he received from a generation of faith and civil rights leaders—including Reverend Howard Thurman and Morehouse College President Benjamin Mays—who shared with Dr. King their activist theology and commitment to nonviolence. Dr. King listened to Thurman speak, and carried a copy of his best-known book, “Jesus and the Disinherited” in his pocket. King would go on to quote Thurman extensively throughout the 1950s and 1960s.
Separately, and very differently, through her collaboration with Prince, Lizzo learned to stay true to herself and credits his encouragement for her authenticity and artistry—which is breaking boundaries for inclusivity and female empowerment in the music industry today.
Some of our country’s most revered American figures credit their success to a mentor who guided and inspired them, including Maya Angelou, John Glenn, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffett, and Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Everyone deserves to benefit from mentorship, regardless of their circumstances, because mentoring can have a profound impact on the trajectory of an individual’s life. We have learned as a nation that giving empathetically is one of the most powerful gifts one person can give another. Young adults with a mentor are 55 percent more likely to enroll in college, 78 percent more likely to volunteer regularly, and 130 percent more likely to hold a leadership position.
Yet today, one-in-three young people in America will grow up without a mentor. Many veterans transitioning back to civilian life, or young professionals beginning a career, lack access to guidance. Nearly nine in ten Americans think more mentoring is needed in our country, and seven in ten are currently mentoring or are willing to do so. That in itself is profound.
Some of the most promising mentoring programs come from partnerships between nonprofits and the corporate sector. Major companies see the benefit of mentorship for their employees, their communities, as well as their bottom line. When employers support youth mentoring, 73 percent of employees report strong career satisfaction that in turn leads to higher retention rates. Mentoring also provides a pipeline to source young talent and improves the performance and efficacy of existing employees.
In my home of Seattle, it’s encouraging to see community leaders and businesses recognize the power of mentorship and develop formal programs. As an example, Microsoft’s Community Mentorship Program aims to boost diversity and inclusion in the tech industry by providing mentors for women, people of color, minorities, the LGBTQ community, and those with special abilities. Alaska Airlines’ Sisters of the Skies initiative pledges to increase the number of African American women in aviation by 2025 through mentorship. And, homegrown musician Macklemore runs a program for young artists to give them experience in the music industry through workshops and collaborations with local musicians.
At the Schultz Family Foundation, we’re partnering with national organizations making an impact through mentorship. MENTOR fuels the quantity and quality of mentoring relationships for America’s youth by connecting mentors and young people, providing mentorship training and resources, and advocating for policy and funding supportive of mentorship programs. Bunker Labs’ Bunker Connect program aims to foster a community of mentorship for service members, veterans, and military spouses to successfully navigate professional and personal transitions.
These leaders, businesses, and organizations can inspire us all to consider what else we might do to help others reach their full potential and discover a life of purpose. It’s a responsibility we all share. Today, we encourage you to become a mentor to someone. To search for local opportunities, go to MENTORing.org.