|FROM THE ISSUE | FALL 2011
My mom, Jean, was the strongest and the most amazing woman I’ve ever known. And I’ve known a lot of strong and amazing women: Bella Abzug, Coretta Scott King, Shirley Chisholm, Geraldine Ferraro, Barbara Jordan, Eleanor Holmes Norton. Each in her way has been a mentor of mine.
My life has been filled with mentors. At 12: A woman gave me the chance to coach softball. Just out of college: A woman gave me an internship at Voters for Choice. At every stage, I have been blessed by a wiser, older woman who recognized a spark and mentored me.
To these guardian angels I owe whatever I’ve accomplished. From the passion of these women comes my passion; from their strength comes mine. This is the timeless chain: women mentoring women. To the famous and the unknown, I thank you all. Your mentorship, intentional or inadvertent, helped me become me.
“Invest in the lives of all those you come across on your path. Then watch how value will be multiplied back into your life.” I don’t remember where I read that, but each day I am reassured of its truth. We sometimes forget, however, to invest in each other.
According to the National Mentoring Partnership, 18 million young people need mentors, but only 3 million are in formal or high-quality mentoring relationships. That’s a sad disconnect, for both sides. The mentee’s gain is obvious, but I’d say the mentor gains even more. There’s a Talmudic saying: “Much have I learned from my teachers, more from my colleagues, but the most from my students.”
Don’t just scramble up a network; extend yourself down. Choose people a few steps behind you and share the wisdom of your career and pathways. Mentor! That’s how you got here, by being mentored.
If you don’t bring someone into the room with you, you’re going to be in the room alone. And we all need someone watching our backs; I can’t tell you the number of times someone younger or less experienced has saved my butt by watching out for me. Claw your way to the top and you’ll destroy your foundation; build a base of support and trusted advisors and you’ll be braced against the storm.
Most people don’t know this about me, but I’m a mother—of more than 300 kids. They worked for me on the Al Gore campaign in 2000, T.A.’d my class at Georgetown, interned at Brazile & Associates or just met me on some college campus. I didn’t give birth to many of them (well, any of them) but I still love and scold, support and critique, push and pull like they were my own.
I’m proud of their achievements, their struggles, their willingness (like their momma’s) to go out there and stir it up! Kids who worked on the Gore campaign are now major movers and shakers in Washington, D.C. Everything I’ve done to counsel them, supervise them and help guide their careers has come back to me tenfold. I’m proud to have been part of their journeys. I like to think my mentors are proud of me for honoring their gifts by passing them along to the next generation.
Women need to look out for each other. We need to offer one hand below us to help someone up, and then stretch the other above us for someone to lift us up. The old boys’ network works this way. But it’s not just about parity: We need a women-promoting network because, let’s face it, there are some things only another woman understands.
That’s why I’m asking you to become a mentor—and a mentee as well. Find the people who can help you, and find the people you can help. You always have something to teach, and you always have something to learn.
Go forth and mentor!
DONNA BRAZILE is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, a political contributor on CNN and a contributor to ABC News, including This Week With Christiane Amanpour.
Excerpted from the Fall 2011 issue of Ms. To have this issue delivered straight to your door, join the Ms. community.
Comments on this piece? We want to hear them! Send to firstname.lastname@example.org. To have your letter considered for publication, please include your city and state.