This post has been co-authored by Eli A. Wolff, Partners for Youth with Disabilities, and Mary A. Hums, University of Louisville.
We celebrate International Mentoring Day on January 17 while honoring the legacy of Muhammad Ali on what would have been his 75th birthday. Reflecting on the power of mentoring and how it contributes to creating a better world is a useful exercise any day, but particularly on a day that acknowledges a great man and his great life.
Mentoring teaches us to lift each other up, creating powerful positive long-lasting relationships along the way. Mentoring reinforces the benefits of enhancing the lives of all people, and can be especially uplifting for individuals who are isolated, excluded or at the margins. Mentoring has been and will continue to contribute toward fostering development, peace and human rights. Mentoring can build a more inclusive and better world for all.
Mentoring is a powerful tool for raising awareness and understanding diversity and inclusion, helping us to recognize the importance of advocacy and being advocates for ourselves and others. Mentoring, whether formal or informal, reinforces the power of relationships and contributes to creating a better world.
Mentoring relationships help us to broaden our lens for diversity and inclusion, allowing us to see others as people first while moving beyond labels and stereotypes. Mentors and mentees can help each other to redefine “normal” and move to “typical”, creating visibility for individuals or communities previously living as invisible to greater society. Through mentorship we can expand our minds, hearts and vision toward race, sexual orientation, disability, religion, culture. This is the power of mentoring. All are welcome in the mentoring space.
Mentoring also brings light to what it means to become an advocate for a better world. Together, mentors and mentees learn that being advocates for oneself and others embodies strength, leadership and empowerment while honoring different advocacy styles, approaches and tactics. Advocates can proactively mobilize and vocalize for change or can use role modeling in a subtle yet profound approach. Some advocates may be demanding and push for change, while others may pull for change simply by modeling through the lived example of their everyday lives.
The power of mentoring is transformative for individuals and communities. Both informal and formal mentoring challenge us to do better and be better in our personal lives and in our lives as citizens in our local, national and global communities. Formal mentoring gives us the structure to interact, engage, create and foster intentional relationships where people develop personally while achieving goal-oriented life outcomes. Informal mentoring is profound in the seamless way that knowledge, lessons and ideas can be transferred within and between generations. Informal mentoring is ongoing in our lives, an essential element of the human condition, manifesting itself through parents, friends, teachers, partners, grandparents, and community leaders.
Muhammad Ali lives on as a worldwide mentor. We can all continue to learn from his legacy of advancing diversity and inclusion, his strategic advocacy for a better world and how he engaged people globally through formal and informal mentoring. In the words of his widow, Lonnie Ali, “Mentors are special gifts to the world. They encourage, motivate, reinforce, and guide others to reach their own individual greatness. After all, mentors have the power to transform lives.”