Today I was reading Pleasure Activism and was struck at the way dear sister Doctor Alexis Pauline Gumbs wrote about the mentoring that was done by Toni Cade Bambara and how those mentees have served as examples to Lex. I was left breathless and a little jealous thinking, oh how I hope someone will write about me in that way but more important than my ego is the issue of mentorship in creating movement.
As I get older and farther from my days as a baby organizer and baby poet, I meet other fledgling activists and media makers and I honestly think my generation, those that are smack in the middle of middle age have done a pretty shitty job of mentoring those generations after us. We are often so caught up in our egos or just our day to day packed as fuck lives, that we forget to take time to share lessons while giving space for new failures (and successes). Often we are so busy wanting to mold the younger generations into copies of ourselves, not recognizing our own errors but also our own stubbornness. There also a healthy dose of fear here – fear of being made obsolete, fear of losing access, power or the trappings of it we think we have under the current iteration of disaster capitalism.
I don’t exclude myself from this criticism. I can name a number of times where I should have shown more patience, more love, more understanding to those seeking to push the movement(s) further, their creativity further. It is something that as of late I am trying to rectify by giving time and energy to younger organizers.
I have written about it before but it begs and is worth repeating, I owe so much of who I am and how I organize because I was mentored. I didn’t call it that when Richie Perez would have me stuff envelopes or learn how to do press releases in between teaching me the basics of protest planning and security and public speaking while handing me books and articles to read and sharing his own experiences but it was mentoring at it’s best. I still ask myself at least once daily what would Richie do or say in this situation I find comfort and courage in his lessons.
But when does the need for mentorship end? Can one be both mentee and mentor? These are some questions that came up in conversation today with a dear fellow mama writer and npic worker when I was lamenting my inability to find a literary/poetic home and the closest I have come is my academic work which is forcing me (in a good way) to play with poetry again on rigid deadlines and within the constraints of assignments. My dear friend, who was seeking advice on navigating a new role she was in, offered concrete suggestions and advice for me. And I will admit I was dismissive of some of her suggestions. They included writing groups that were filled with younger writers whom we both agreed may not get some of nuances of being middle age mamis while wanting to create (for example even as I’m writing this I’m lamenting how I should have been in bed an hour ago since I have to wake up to pack lunch plus there is a sink full of dirty dishes and dinner leftovers that need to be put away). I also was loath to join a writing group with a super popular current darling of the LA latinx lit scene that I just don’t get. Some of this was fear. A lot of it was arrogance but deep down I want(ed) a mentor to help me midwife the dozen of half formed writing ideas and plans that I have been incubating.
In the end my dear friend and I are sort of mentoring one another as we continue to push the boundaries of what women of a certain ethnicity and age are supposed to be doing while also mentoring those who are still coming up.