So I mentor and coach underserved individuals ranging from middle school to undergrad. I have received many questions from people that wish to do similar work but have concerns about the message that they want to send. Below I list about five tips to speaking and mentoring to underserved and underprivileged kids.
1) Check Your Assumptions at the Door: We all approach life by making quick assumptions about people by how they talk, dress, their income level and their occupation. Some mentors and coaches approach underserved kids by assuming that they are stupid or unaware of what’s going on the world. This is a classic mistake that mentors make because they watched too many ‘Lean on Me” type movies where somebody from the outside comes in and save the kids from their very ignorant existence. However, underserved kids are just as plugged in as any other group. I have seen their intelligence as a rule, not as an exception and you would be wise to approach our underserved communities without assuming that they know less than others.
2) Do Not Dissuade them from Pursuing a Career in Athletics or Entertainment- Most people do not agree with me on this point but hear me out on this front. First, you should not assume that they all want to be accomplish this particular goal. However, if they do, tread lightly on this goal. You never know if the kid you are talking to is the next Michael Jordan or Beyonce. That kid may be special and you as a mentor or speaker have no right to come into their life and be a dream killer. Instead of telling them that they will never make it– tell them what they could tangibly do to make their dreams come true while also keeping their education as a priority. I tell kids if you plan to be the next Steph Curry then the only places you should be is in class, the library, the weight room or on the court. I tell them their school work is important not because it’s a backup plan if they do not make it big, but it ensures them that they can take any path they want in life if they so choose. The important thing is to emphasize that education has to be the priority and chasing their dreams requires effort and hard work beyond what they do in practice.
3) Make it Personal – To many mentors and motivational speakers come to the student making a lot of noise that pumps the students up in the short term, but fails to give them strategies for success over the long term. I am a former football player. When I talk to people, I too like to scream and yell and sound like Ray Lewis too. However, students need more than motivation– they need a real tangible strategy that they can realistically put in place for their life
4) Look the Part Somewhat- I used to give speeches and coaching sessions in a shirt and tie because I believed that they needed to see a black male professional. I do not regret taking this approach early on, but we live in an informal generation– where people with advanced education wear dreads, tattoos and the like. So I decided to start dressing like I do on the weekends instead of dressing like I do when I present a case to an Assistant United States Attorney. This means I took my Jordans out and put my loafers away. The kids know your bio, your education and that you have some type of important job–and when you come dress more casual, it makes your message of success more relevant to them. They know they do not have to sacrifice their culture, who they are and how they like to dress to obtain an education and subsequent success.
5) Never Ever Lecture Them- When mothers and fathers call me to talk to their son or daughter, I always turn them down. I turn them down because kids do not need another person in their life lecturing them about stuff. I tell parents that kids will always do what they see before they do what you say. Therefore, if I need to reach a kid, I may take them with me to get a haircut or just play video games (Madden and Call of Duty). I let them see me hanging out with my daughters or talking business with my supervisors or just taking care of my responsibilities. Then I listen to them as they talk and they will indirectly reveal the things that may be bothering them. Sometimes I respond to them by telling them man-up or woman-up. Sometimes I tell the parents that this kid is justified in how they feel or act and adjustments need to made. In others times I just encourage them and tell them about my personal hardships as a teenager. But I never lecture them as they get enough that at home and school and they will start to tune you out.
Finally- you have to have a passion for talking, mentoring and coaching kids. You know you have a passion for this when you feel fulfilled when you talk to them. You should walk away from them exhausted because you gave them everything you had but energized because feeding them knowledge feeds your spirit. This is what drives mentors and coaches today, and you have to make sure you have that before you get seriously involved.