I’m so excited to witness young leaders step up and do good work in our communities. Yet I find myself concerned that in my conversations with several, they long for mentors and the wisdom of elders. I’ve been told of meetings where elders spent more time criticizing than creating space. I’m baffled to watch elders hold on so tightly to power and be unwilling to groom new leadership.
Earlier in my career, I met a senior states person of whom I was so in awe of her work. Not only was she rude and dismissive, but she also missed an opportunity to speak into my life and work with me. She wasn’t the only one. Yet there were others like Dallas Board Trustee Kathlyn Gilliam who spent many hours with me, sharing and allowing me to witness her work. Although she’s no longer with us, her legacy remains in me and so many others.
Even though I am more seasoned, I am grateful for folks like Dr. Marvin Dulaney who was my college professor and is still a mentor. I’m grateful for Dr. Harry Robinson, Dr. Terry Flowers, Greg Campbell, and Vickie Meek who have all blessed me with so many conversations (too many to count) with such wisdom, insight, and sponsorship. I’m elated for Cheryl Smith who worked with me (along with Commissioner John Wiley Price) as a college student and has always been a cheerleader and encourager.
It’s because of Cheryl that you are reading this column. She’s given me the space to share the downloads God gives me to write weekly. There are others who have poured into my life with their words of wisdom, time, talent, mentoring, coaching, and even saying my name in spaces that I’m not in. (I only have so much space in this column, so please forgive me if I didn’t mention you. You know who you are!)
Our community cannot afford the loss of institutional knowledge. All of us know that one day, we are going to leave this planet hopefully to be with God. We need to spend our time intentionally not hoarding power but harnessing it to build a collective table that prepares, positions, and propels. There is a place for us all. We need our seasoned folks just as we need our upcoming movers and shakers because we all bring needed components to the table. When we are not inclusive to either, we are enacting oppressive barriers that we all are trying to eliminate outside of our community.
The Bible gives numerous examples of the power of mentorship, including: Moses and Joshua (Deuteronomy 34:9); Elijah and Elisha (1 Kings 19:21); and Ruth and Naomi (Ruth 1:14-18).
• These relationships were successful because God was the center. The mentor recognized that they were here to do the work that God called them to do and that it was not about them. When we allow ego to get in the way, not only do we edge God out, but we also move others away.
• They also recognized that the work must continue beyond their existence and that preparing the next generation was critical.
• The mentee knew they needed the wisdom, guidance, and experience of the mentor and did not expect this to happen overnight.
So often in our community, leaders hold on to power sometimes for far too long. Leaders fail to share their good, bad, and ugly so others can learn and accelerate. We must get out of the mentality that if we went through struggle and oppression, others need to go through the same thing. It was traumatic for us and for most, did not serve us well. What would have happened if we had the support and information we needed that would have served as a catalyst for our growth at first?
Why would we want others to experience trauma, especially if we say we really care about people? What would happen if we really lived Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron so one person sharpens another.” Not only do we benefit but our communities thrive when we are intentional about building leaders, regardless of where we are in our leadership journey. So, who is your successor?
(Dr. Froswa’ Booker-Drew is the host of the Tapestry podcast and the author of three books for women. She is also the vice president of Community Affairs for the State Fair of Texas. To learn more, visit <drfroswa.com>.)