Fifteen years ago, I stood on the front steps of a townhouse in Lakewood and nervously pressed the doorbell, insecure thoughts rushing through my mind. What will I say to her? What if she doesn’t like me? I suddenly became aware of just how white I looked, with my jean shorts, plaid j-crew shirt, and cross-over hippie bag. What if she opens the door and says, “Oh great, a white girl. Didn’t they have any black ones left?” I have white-privilege guilt, and always assume that black people dislike me.
Right in the middle of my white-girl crisis, the door swung open, revealing one of the cutest little 8-yr-old girls I had ever seen, standing in front of her mother, who looked immediately warm and inviting. The little girl looked at me questioningly, and then, in a quiet, gentle voice, asked “Are you my big sister?”
The moment of truth.
“Yes. I’m your big sister,” I replied. And to my surprise, she stepped out of her mother’s shadow and gave me a big hug. That hug was the first of many, and the beginning of a lifelong relationship.
On that first day, though, more insecure thoughts arose. I had nothing to offer this little girl. No skills. No special talents. No wisdom. Plus, she had a wonderful tight-knit family. Why did I sign up for this? What benefit would I be to her? She didn’t need me.
Over the years, however, our relationship became substantial. At first I was a “mentor,” but later, a friend. Her mom once told me that she just wanted to expose Irea to different things and give her more opportunities, whether it was going to the zoo, riding the roller coaster at kiddie park, or making homemade suckers in my kitchen. I was also able to give Irea one-on-one attention, which was sometimes difficult to get in a large family.
At the same time, I was benefiting from this relationship as well—not only by spending time with this precious little girl, but also by stepping outside of my comfort zone, gaining knowledge and debunking my own stereotypes. What I learned from being Irea’s big sister is that we humans are all so much alike, despite our seemingly insurmountable differences. We are all trying to navigate this crazy life, day by day, and it is our job to help each other any way we can. We are an intricately connected fabric of beautiful people.Humans are an interconnected fabric of beautiful people - more alike than we realize. Click To Tweet
When you sign up to be someone’s Big Brother or Big Sister, you have to make a one-year commitment. I am happy that Irea and I made a lifelong commitment. I love her like a real sister.
Irea is now a strong, independent woman and mother of 2 beautiful children. She still faces many obstacles that many of my friends will never experience, but I will save that for a future blog post.
Have you ever thought of becoming a mentor? Here are some local organizations that can help.
Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Greater Cleveland: This program matches carefully screened adults with same-gender children between the ages of 9 and 16. “Bigs” commit to spending 4 hours each month with their “Little” for at least 12 months.
Boys & Girls Club of Cleveland offers safe, fun places for kids to go when they are most vulnerable, like after school, on Saturdays, and during the summer. This nonprofit organization is always looking for volunteers to work with the youth in various roles.
The College Now of Greater Cleveland offers a unique online platform for communication between mentor and mentee. Mentors provide advice for their college-bound mentees, as well as assistance after college to help the graduates enter the workforce.
Feel free to share your favorite mentoring programs or experiences!