Mentoring 365 Project: Growing Through Mentoring

July 9, 2015

Sondra Headshot NewMentoring is a two-way relationship, it’s not this all knowing person descending on this other less knowing person. It is a mutuality and a valuing of diverse experiences and amount of experience, but never condescension.”

Sondra Samuels is the President and CEO of Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) and a well-known supporter of mentoring and youth achievement both here in Minnesota and on a national level. She was born in Newark, New Jersey but moved to Scotch Plains, NJ as a young girl. Scotch Plains and Newark vary in many aspects, one of the most noticeable differences in the small town of Scotch Plains versus the city of Newark were their demographics. Moving from a diverse neighborhood like Newark to a predominantly white town like Scotch Plains allowed Sondra to have experiences which proved to be vital in her development as a passionate mentor and advocate for youth success.

She found her guidance and support primarily through her immediate family and close relatives; opportunities to visit her cousins at college allowed her to envision herself in college and plan accordingly. Through their guidance and her dedication, she prepared herself by taking the steps necessary to excel academically and ensure she would later move on to college. Sondra also found that historical figures such as Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Baker proved to be great mentors. Studying their lives and their impact on the Civil Rights Movement proved to be a defining moment in her life. The knowledge that can be gained through studying the experiences of influential figures such as Fannie and Ella echoed the same belief in education and progress that Sondra’s parents emphasized.

“It is really about having an unwavering belief in all of human potential, capacity for good, capacity for creativity and power and strength. So where ever you go, where ever you work, you’re expressing that belief in where you live and where you work and you don’t let someone’s behavior make you believe otherwise. You might say they’re not ready, but you know that it’s always still possible.”

As a dedicated mentor and supporter of youth development, especially in North Minneapolis, where NAZ is based, Sondra has been a mentor through Kinship for four years. Both through NAZ and her presence in the North Minneapolis community, Sondra helps in mentoring and fostering the healthy development of the youth in the area on a daily basis. Through activities such as Northside Youth Standup, which gathers youth in the community to participate in various activities such as: basketball, spoken word and freestyling, or simply sharing her family’s backyard with the children in the area, Sondra has been instrumental in teaching our youth valuable life lessons.

“Work hard, know there is a god, value wisdom and lived experiences, be forgiving of themselves, allow mistakes to be teachers and then move on, remain humble and just know that it’s never I can’t do this but I can’t do this yet, have a growth mindset and really believe that if I work hard enough at something that I can do it.”

As both a mother and a mentor Sondra has had the unique opportunity to mentor in both a formal and informal setting, understanding the important nuances of the aspects of a formal mentoring relationship and the benefits of an informal mentoring relationship. She recounted her experience with a young girl she currently mentors. Initially the relationship began very formally with planned activities and set meeting times, but the relationship has since grown to become more informal. Her daughters have become close with her mentee and Sondra and her family have been able to share in the many accomplishments of her mentee. Sondra has noticed how their relationship has grown since she has been able to share a deeper connection with her mentee and also share the experience with her family.

“For any growth to happen it is either inspired by great pain or great love and sometimes I think the two are not mutually exclusive. The two can be one in the same. I started out on my journey and the thing that compelled me around wanting to do something, wanting things to be different, was when young African-American men that I loved started killing each other. I remember how I struggled with that, if there is something I can do about this I want to do it. So there was both great pain, because I was losing people I love, but I love them so it was painful and that inspires me to not give up and keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

Sondra shows no sign of slowing down in the near future. Her dedication and passion for the work she does in North Minneapolis has already has a substantial impact on the community and with the recent decision to name North Minneapolis a federal Promise Zone, many other opportunities for grants to fund education, housing and employment programs will become available. Sondra acknowledges there is still work to be done, but with her drive and passion for mentoring she has undoubtedly demonstrated what it means to provide and support quality mentoring in Minnesota.