Rashaun Williams didn’t realize he was being mentored until he began to see the role he played in other young people’s lives.
Throughout my years in school, I was on the debate team, which taught me how to analyze multiple perspectives while staying neutral. Student council, which prepared me to speak for multiple voices equally. The drum squad, which showed me teams are only as strong as the weakest player, and track and field, which taught me that if the mind has the endurance to prevail, the body will only follow. However, after witnessing first-hand how poverty placed people in despair, degradation, and destitution, I felt as though the work I did in my free time made no real contribution to the world. I wanted to be a part of something greater than myself so desperately, so I took what I learned through my experiences in school and began a life of service to community. I started a volunteer community group called Phresh Philly, which promotes sustainability through social entrepreneurship and high school activism.
In 2008, while learning entrepreneurship at the Enterprise Center, I met Russell Hicks. We only really spoke to one another in passing, but the one time we did have a conversation, I learned that social entrepreneurship was my calling. Russell explained that his life was devoted to starting businesses that “do good” for the community. Although I wasn’t sure what that really meant at the time, it sounded perfect for me! After graduating the program, I didn’t see Russell again until 2011. By this time, I had given up all my extracurricular activities to focus on serving my community. Russell and I began attending town hall meetings at City Hall, where Russell knew EVERYONE in the room—and I mean everyone—but still made an effort to connect with me.
When he asked me: “What you been up too?” I proudly replied: “I am President of Phresh Philadelphia, a volunteer organization focused on community development, empowerment, and cleanups!” That moment felt great. Being able to tell Russell Hicks that I, Rashaun Williams, became a social entrepreneur like him—priceless. He responded by saying: “Well we need to do some work together brotha!” I went home that night, forgetting all about the town hall meeting, all I could think about was how humbled I was to have the opportunity to work with Russell Hicks. I could tell he was genuine in his statement and time proved it. From then on, Russell and I worked with community organizations and CDCs, organized clean ups in North Philadelphia and began mentoring youth throughout the city. Through his guidance and belief in me, I was given the power to empower others, and I knew this was my calling.
Through a series of community empowerment events that Russell and I had planned together, I met Christopher Norris, CEO, Techbook Online Corporation, and we too began to build a solid relationship of service and commitment to community. Chris knew the city like the back of his hand, and whenever something was happening on the streets we were there. I learned more than I can put in words, but during my moments of reflection I put the lessons to practice in order to make my organization better. I shifted my focus on sporadically creating events around Philadelphia to focusing on academia, technology, business development, and environmental studies.
After spending years watching leaders, doers, directors, entrepreneurs, teachers and mentors do what they do best, it was time for me to take my service to community to the next level. I didn’t know it, but Chris was cultivating my growth as a social entrepreneur, sharpening my mind and allowing me to discover how this city operated in and out. It wasn’t long before I received a phone call from Chris, saying: “You’re applying for the BMe Challenge, and you’re gonna win!” I wasn’t sure if he was just looking to build my confidence or if he really believed I could win, but I applied and after months of working through the process, I became the youngest BMe Leader in Philly.
Chris and I eventually became business partners. We’re the Program Directors for TechKnoweldge G!™ a S.T.E.A.M powered edutainment campaign that informs the public of sustainability practices and engages schools and communities in sustainable project based learning activities. Our bond both as business partners and brothers grew as we continued to innovate, collaborate, and build on existing ideas. I had finally had a business partners who had more thoughts than me at a single time —that made business fun. Together, just like Russell and I had done in the past, we developed out-of-school time programs, mentored youth, and improved our business models together. It never occurred to me that I had surrounded myself with so many black males that were older, wiser and more accomplished than me, until my peers in school acknowledged changes in my behavior; a deep maturation that gave me an “old soul,” they said. I then began to ask myself: why so many people focused their energy on my success? Out of all the experienced, knowledgeable, and well established entrepreneurs in the world, why work with me? I was slightly confused, very humbled, but most importantly, I was afraid. My youth and inexperience could be the detrimental, and I didn’t want my weaknesses to inhibit anyone’s success. But Chris help me realize that mentorship is about seeing one’s potential, and creating an environment for which that potential can flourish.
Mentors direct their mentees from point A to point B, and in between that time, mentors nurture independence so their mentees will be able and ready to go from point B to C on their own. Mentors place mirrors in front of mentees, allowing them to chisel their own imperfections; the chiseling starts when mentees are ready to grow. Mentors can’t make mentees travel down a road of success; they can only show them the way. As my mentors and I travel, synergy grows and brotherhood strengthens. I didn’t realize Russell Hicks and Chris Norris were mentoring me until I began to see how I played a role in other young people’s lives.
Now I am a mentor to many youth between the ages of 14 and 18, and I’m realizing that patience, understanding, humility, and wisdom are the foundation to effectively reaching others. I see the same passion for action in my mentees, and I understand how inertia antagonizes them to do more, give more, and be greater. I pay it forward by remembering that I was – and still am – a ball of energy without clear direction, but I’m not be alone. I am better off because these two mentors entered my life and now I am working to do the same for others. There’s potential in everyone, but sometimes only YOU can bring out one’s best self.
Happy National Mentoring Month! Celebrate by becoming a mentor today!
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m DJ Reezey® & that’s the DJ’s drop!™
2013 BMe Leader Rashuan Williams is the Founder/Executive Director of Phresh Philly and the Director of Youth & Millennial Iniaitives, Techbook Online Corporation.
Source: TBO Inc®
©2013 All Rights Reserved.
Photo: C. Norris